Hosting an Art Activity : 5 Project Management Lessons


ThoughtWorks (where I used to work a few years ago) reached out to me recently asking if I could host an art activity at their Annual Away Day. I was excited and fascinated by the theme of the event (centered around Technology, Solidarity, Revolution & Social Inclusion).

The art work was to be co-created by many people during the event. Crowd sourcing an art installation is a big challenge in many ways. It requires a lot of planning and co-ordination. There is no way to predict how many people would contribute. It is also easy for the entire art work to be derailed if every aspect is not planned in great detail. Of course, I agreed to host the art activity.

With just 4 weekends to prepare, I set about charting the concept and preparing for the event. Everything from ideation, planning, execution to delivery reminded me of managing software projects. Here are my key takeaways from the project management perspective.

Planning 


Seamless execution is the result of impeccable planning.

Planning the right materials, managing time, ensuring equal chance for many people to contribute was just the beginning. I considered access to water, space available and even deliberated on how to transport the finished art work, and fall back options for nearly everything in my control !

For instance, I chose canvas boards because they are sturdy, easy to pack and transport. It is also easy to assemble and disassemble them.

I ran mini experiments and tested my risky theories. For instance, I proposed using double side tapes on canvas panels to display the final art work. Since the boards would have mirror, clay and metal work, it was important that I tested this early. I tested this using one of my previous art work which had heavy clay work. I confirmed my concept only after I had verified this.

Marketing the vision 


On day one, I had prepared the art corner for people to walk in. When the first set of people walked in, well, I just blurted out instructions. This was partly due to my natural introversion and partly due to my focus on just getting things done.

Thanks to my entrepreneurial stints, I recovered soon from this mindset. As founders (or art concept creators, in this case) we need to share and market our vision. People contribute only when they buy into the vision. I soon prepared an elevator pitch for the art work. When people heard that the final art work was to be installed at one of the new ThoughtWorks offices, they were eager to contribute.

"No one enjoys laying bricks. Everyone loves to build monuments – one brick at a time."

Every person matters 


It doesn't matter how big or small a person's contribution is.


It was amusing to stand back and watch people walk upto the final art display. They would point to a specific part of the art work and exclaim “I did that !” with pride. It didn’t matter how big or small their contribution was. It was a proud moment for each one of them. They had contributed to creating something big, and their part was as important as anyone else’s. And rightly so.

People skills 


Everyone needs a little push and a lot of appreciation.

When it comes to exhibiting our art skills, most of us feel overwhelmed. I know this from having heard “I’m not good at art” from so many people. (Art teachers and biology teachers trigger traumatic memories in many grown ups). I had to repeat quite often – “There is no such thing as bad art. Go crazy. Give it a shot”. I had to motivate, mentor, guide and appreciate each person. I had to encourage them to make mistakes. I guess, everyone needs a little push and a lot of appreciation.

Murphy’s law 

“If anything can go wrong, it will”

Well, no matter how much we plan in advance, there will always be last minute glitches. For instance, when we realised a day before the event that paints are not allowed on flights. Thankfully we had a day's buffer and the materials reached by road.

Also, the final art display was to be a 4 feet (height) by 8 feet (wide) plywood. At the venue I received a 3 feet (wide) by 8 feet (high) board. Once again, having buffer time in hand and an enthusiastic set of carpenters, saved the day.



"Fabric of Life"

The final art work turned out way better than what I had visualized. On the whole it was a rewarding experience. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. Yet the activity was a success only because of everyone's and the support from the ThoughtWorks.