You may remember that last January, I met with a group of 6 wonderful women and we began to create a folk art co-operative. Here's what's happened to this project over the past 7 months.
Our vision was to offer classes in a wide variety of the folk arts, provide gallery space in our store for member artists to display and sell their creations, open a retail shop selling the raw materials for folk artists, and to provide a gathering space for artists and the community to use. As we worked on setting up the legal parts of the co-op, writing the by-laws and the business plan, and renovating the store for opening day, I began to have serious questions about one of the members' ability to work as a team member. When I spoke with her privately, she laughed and said she did things her way. When I brought up issues at several board of directors' meetings, I received very little support from the other women. Privately, some of them shared that they had concerns about this person as well, but in the meetings, they did not support me as I tried to confront this one person.
By early May, I'd had enough and realized that this person was going to run the business as she chose, regardless of the policies the board set down and regardless of the illegality of some of what she was doing. I resigned from the board of directors and withdrew my membership in the co-op. I was fortunate to get a full refund of my investment. In June, another member also resigned and withdrew her membership and she too, received a full refund of her investment.
I kept in touch with other members on the board throughout the summer and it seemed as though things went from bad to worse. More and more members resigned from the board until by early August there were only 2 members left and the one troubling member who was managing the store and therefore, not an official board member. State law requires that a co-op have a minimum of 3 members on the board of directors and our by-laws require a 5 member board.
I received word in August, that these three members had cancelled the board of directors' elections which had been scheduled for mid July and had gone further to move to dissolve the co-op. This was done without either the knowledge or consent of the remaining co-op members. Both state law and our by-laws require the majority consent of the members to dissolve the entity. When I learned that the co-op had been summarily dissolved, my first question was what will become of the store? The store is a business of the co-op and should have been put up for sale by the board. What did these three ladies do? They "gave" it to themselves. As far as I know, no money changed hands. They simply took over the store for themselves. All the fixtures were purchased with co-op money. The lease is in the co-op name. The goods for sale in the retail part of the store were purchased by the three individuals and were being sold on a consignment basis--not a very productive way to conduct business. The remaining members of the co-op received partial refunds of their investments.
Last weekend, I read an article in a local magazine about the store. There is no mention of the co-op at all and it sounds as though these 2 women have created this store on their own. The third remaining woman isn't referred to at all in the article so I don't know what happened to her.
I was very upset last May when I decided to withdraw from the whole project. I had lots of questions: Should I hang in there and keep trying? What else could I do to correct the situation? Am I crazy for thinking there's a problem since the others didn't support me? What made my decision was the realization that I dreaded going to the weekly board meetings and always came home angry and with a headache. This was supposed to be a satisfying outlet for my creativity and it was becoming a struggle over everything as I tried to hold her to the vision of the co-op and to the policies. Life is too short to spend it on this kind of crap, I thought.
I feel very angry about what this member has done. As time went on, it became more and more clear that this member's goal was to have a store of her own but without having to spend her own money. I believe she used the co-op members and their money to set up her store and in my mind, that simply thievery. To top it all off, this woman claims to have a Masters in Divinity and she goes about preaching in the area churches, while she's robbing people of their money in this way!
I am working very hard to put all this behind me. I try not to think of it because when I do, I become angry again and I don't want to be angry any more about it. When I read the magazine article, I decided to respond and send a letter to the mag to set the record straight. I'm waiting for several days before I send it off--I don't want to write this letter in anger and end up being sued for slander or something!
So, our little group of the remaining 4 women have made plans to gather together to work on our crafts and possibly to start teaching some of what we know. We may create a folk school in the future, but the lessons I learned from this experience will serve me well if we decide to go forward with another venture.
So, that's what happened to the Folk Art co-operative.