One post before I crash, or, <title>Bad HTML pun</title>

Starting a small business on a small budget meant that at the beginning, I was doing a lot on my own, and that included the website. Before the more widespread use of WordPress and other relatively seamless platforms and plugins, this was a bit more of a challenge. In ye olden days I coded the website  in HTML, and it was . . . pretty basic. 

Having the website built manually had pros and cons. Pro: we kept it simple, and it cleanly reflected exactly what we wanted. Con: it was not fancy, and none of it was automated. Every single exhibit and artist page was created manually. The “current show” and “upcoming show” sections had to be changed each and every time. It was a hugely time consuming task to keep it up to date on a regular basis. 

In 2007, we had switched to a monthly exhibitions schedule, and we wanted our website to accurately reflect our curation. With the increase of popularity in social media, we wanted our site to be engaging. It was getting to be way, way too much work, especially on top of everything else. Now can you understand why I had that breakdown? We quoted out a website redevelopment, and it was going to cost upwards of a year’s salary to have a site redesigned for us and automated with the features we needed, which, needless to say, was totally and completely out of our small budget.

Cue Sierra Bravo and its community-minded staff . Sierra Bravo (now the Nerdery) was a quickly growing web development and marketing company in Bloomington, Minnesota. Apparently we weren’t the only nonprofit in this situation, and they were getting floods of requests for discounted websites and other marketing assistance. While they didn’t have the staff capacity to do all these websites for free, they did have another great idea: get an army of volunteer developers to do it. 

Cue the first annual Overnight Website Challenge! 

Here’s how it worked. Groups registered in one of two buckets: developer teams or needy nonprofits. The developer teams were self-organized teams of implementers. Later, each team would be paired with a nonprofit. The aforementioned needy nonprofits registered online with information about their organization, constituents writing testimonials on their behalf. They told the tales of why they needed a new website and how important it would be for their respective communities. Ten nonprofits and ten teams were selected from the applicants and registrants. Then, everybody was to gather together into teams to redesign and redevelop their website in a twenty-four-hour overnight challenge event. The developer teams won prizes, and the nonprofits would receive new websites.

It sounded crazy. It sounded perfect. 

Altered Esthetics signed up to compete with other nonprofits, and Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, the nonprofit I was working at for my day job, also entered. Both of our organizations had loads of testimonials. Next thing you know, we were all sitting together in a giant room full of nonprofits and web developers. It was a giant happy community nerd party. 

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We had a great group of developers, many of whom I am still in touch with today. They took the ginormous laundry list of things I was doing with the website and helped craft an automated website built with a Ruby on Rails platform that would do everything I was doing and more. True to the event, we stayed up overnight working out the design elements and background infrastructure of what was to be Altered Esthetics’ first professionally designed website. 

“Getting a new website” sounds like a simple step, but it was so huge for us in so many ways. We had a platform we could make updates to, allowing us to embed videos and text in a very streamlined way. We created artist profile pages and forms so artists could submit works online, instead of emailing them as they were doing previously. They could create a simple user profile with a representative image. As we reviewed submissions for upcoming exhibits, we could approve images that would then automatically be processed to create online galleries with show images. This online gallery was a huge asset, especially for artists that were out of state but were still interested in seeing the art. 

As the site was going from development to live, we hosted a little data-entry party at the gallery. Board members, interns, and volunteers joined in, and we put all of the back data onto the site—shows from 2004 to 2007—so that when the gallery went live the archive would be fully intact.

Do you like an artist’s work from a particular exhibit? Click into their profile and you could see what other exhibits they were in. Do you want to submit work yourself? Create a profile and submit an image to any show for the upcoming year. It was all automatic, clean, and, even better, on a platform we could train others to use easily. 

Of course, there were things to learn. Having a user-based system meant we’d have to filter out spam accounts and help with duplicate removals, password resets, and other such things. But having a more professional website up and running was a night-and- day change for our young organization and freed up my time to focus on other things, like grants and infrastructure. 

I’m excited to report that the Overnight Website Challenge still exists and is even growing. The Nerdery has expanded the event to additional cities in the Midwest. It’s awesome to see a web-development company helping make the world a better place, one needy nonprofit at a time. 

Websites are important, and nerds are the best.

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This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community. Book includes illustrations by Athena Currier©2019 Jamie Schumacher.

It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.

Coloring Outside the Lines

Little-known fact: I was a drama nerd in high school! Our advanced drama class was a pretty tight group. With only about eight of us, we put on small shows and played theater games to improve our timing and delivery. We all adored our drama guru, Russell Taylor, and our guru had an idea to host an awards day in class. The awards would be from us to each other, which wound up being a lovely exchange. 

I remember my award well, as it was one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever been given. As we passed around the awards, my friend Jon handed me a picnic basket. “What?! A picnic basket?” I asked, a little confused. He explained: “You said last year you’d never been on a picnic. Now you can go!” he responded. I opened the picnic basket to find a coloring book with my award on the inside, which he gave to me to describe how he saw my approach to most things both in class and in life. “Coloring Outside the Lines.” 

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This went on to fuel ideas later. Back to Altered Esthetics, as we set the schedule for our exhibition season for an upcoming year, creating something for the kids in our audience was tossed around excitedly. Curating an exhibit for our younger audience members would not only be fun but also go a long way to encourage the young artists in our community. It’s great to see art on fridges and classroom walls, but seeing art at a professional gallery space is special. 

Many of our regular artists had children who were burgeoning artists themselves, and they responded quickly to the idea. Sue Christensen, my BFF from the aforementioned Art of Sin exhibit, stepped in as a guest curator for the exhibit. She helped with everything from connecting us to local schools to preparing a variety of kid-friendly food for the opening. The first children’s art exhibit went up in March 2008, entitled Coloring Outside the Lines, inspired by my memory from years back. The kids had a blast, and we had fun curating some really impressive and creative children’s art! We decided to make this an annual event, and over the years it would evolve. 

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We shifted to include not just children’s artwork but also art by grown-up kids that children would enjoy and appreciate, with themes like Dinosaurs, Puppets, and Forts! and Blast Off ! With each exhibition we’d include a day of fun Erin Flathers, curatorial intern, at the children’s art exhibit activities and had puppet shows, crafts, and more—all free for families and kids. It was fun to watch this develop at the gallery even before I had kids of my own, and fun to watch as the gallery continued to shape itself with the community and become more inclusive in a variety of ways. 

After the first show closed, Avery—the daughter of one of our regular artists, Lupi McGinty—was reluctant to pick up her work. As she left with her works in hand she called out: “I want my work to stay in the picture museum forever, mommy!”

schumacher_ItsNeverGoingToWork_3DMockup.jpg

This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community. Book includes illustrations by Athena Currier©2019 Jamie Schumacher.

It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.

Maximum occupancy

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The places that feel like home, continued.

My late night breakdown was a catalyst for reflection. Looking back to my inspirations, it’s no wonder that I carried memories from Koo’s Cafe with me as Altered Esthetics got up and running. The exhibitions were important, but equally so the community space that was created.

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