And One Year Later
It’s anniversary time: we are one year old this week. Still young with the future ahead of us, of course, but still, a year is a year. Quite some time. To celebrate it, we thought we share some personal reflections about the experiences we had, something we aren’t doing so often on these pages, mainly because in general we think Art Weekenders is not meant to be about us, but about the topics we are here to cover.
At the end of October a year ago we opened up the Art Weekenders blog to the world. Well, as things go in the life of a website, the world is fairly limited there in the beginning of an online existence and gaining momentum takes time. That doesn’t mean that we lacked in enthusiasm and big ideas, we prepared for our launch for a while and wanted to show ourselves that yes, we can pull it off. We knew from the beginning that starting up a site is not the shortest road to fame and success, or – hmm – to riches, but sometimes you get going with projects because a little voice inside you keeps whispering that you have to. So then you do it.
It’s been an eventful year, without a doubt, and with plenty of challenges. We think it’s fair to say that a year ago both of us had the vague illusion that it would be easier to kick the project off, but reality is usually there to challenge you just a little bit extra. With that said, it was a year with many rewards, there is something funnily fulfilling about having a website – and yes, plenty of extremely frustrating things surrounding it as well ;-). We think it’s fair to say we were quite naïve in many ways (let’s call it optimistic) but it’s just like that, if you’re not, you would never start with any kind of project worthy your efforts, so we don’t complain. If we would only focus in on the work put into managing, creating, developing a project like this, it’s honestly the hardest work we’ve ever done, hands down, with the faintest compensation if we look at the hourly rate. But life is just not only about money (or so we thought…).
Ten things We’ve Learned
If we first zoom in on the learning experiences we had, it’s fair to say that we didn’t get less wise over the past twelve months. The big rewards from this year are without any doubt the lessons learned, a mixed bag of positive experiences in form of new knowledge and some setbacks that teach you lessons in a different way. Yes, the hard way. The balance we had is that nice blend of mixed emotions – and here below we put our heads together to categorise the main ones.
1. Managing a website / blogging is hard work.
We made our first attempts in the online publishing world with our first blogs while travelling across South America, an eye-opening experience and we got hooked. We learned to enjoy the opportunities it offers and the challenges involved. Now when we decided to go one step further and build a “grown-up” website, we quickly learned even more what a hard work that really is. But Art Weekenders was born and we were – and are – dedicated to it.
Just thinking about it that only ten years ago publishing your own work independently wasn’t even possible it’s even more mind-boggling what an impact the digital age has on the world. The bloggers, online entrepreneurs, who made it “big” in the past decade – and there are a few – didn’t get there without hard work, that’s a certainty. Still, it’s very fascinating to know that you yourself can from pretty much nothing create your website, build a business around it, solely with your own effort; it’s a tickling thought. But also the pitfall; while it seems reachable, it’s many-many hours of hard work that needs to be put into it before you even start feeling you get anywhere. We know now from first-hand experience and from knowing others in our virtual circles who work tremendously hard for their “babies”.
2. The creative process is a lonely process.
Exactly for the reasons mentioned above, having a website you soon realise that without putting time and effort into it you won’t get anywhere. Most of that time you will spend on your own, people around you will likely consider you a bit crazy and there’s little support you should count on. At the same time, it’s also a process where you expose yourself and your personality, your work, to the world to kind of scrutinise you – if you are lucky enough to have someone pay attention to you in the beginning even! Simply put: It’s you against the world.
Our respect for artists, writers, performers, for anyone involved in a creative process increased enormously. It’s often about talent, but it’s just as much about hard work. Creating content of value is many-many hours of work: research, writing, editing, design, you name it. So everyone out there working on projects created from the heart – we’re there with you, you have our full respect.
3. The digital world is still in its infancy – and it’s a jungle.
It would be very easy to say that the digital world is there for everyone and that it’s easy to use. Sure, there are plenty of tools and it’s all there for everyone to try, but – it’s a jungle. Being active online and trying to figure out things is often like landing in an overcrowded sea with hungry sharks, for you to figure out how to tackle them. Sink or swim. We learned a lot and it’s knowledge we take with us to any kind of field where we’ll be involved in the future, in the technological age.
Still. There’s so much happening in the digital world that it’s impossible to be on top of all the changes and prioritise right. Even less is it realistic to think that you can understand what works and especially why. There are many entrepreneurs out there and a lot of software and methods to try out, advice to listen to. Most crucially then, there you are in the hands of the big giants, like Google or Facebook, who honestly don’t always seem to know what happens either (just try to make sense of the wild west of SEO rules or page ranking, or Facebook reach – good luck to you all). That they are still offering a service which is far from optimised or transparent, that’s for sure – but it’s also true that it offers plenty of opportunities as well, it’s just to figure out the balance in your expectations.
WordPress as a platform is wonderful and a lot of improvements keep happening, but still so much of it is manual that it’s mind-boggling. To conclude, if, let’s say, the car or food industries would offer similar quality as the digital world, we’d be pretty hurt by now. Shall we bet that a lot will happen in just five, ten years from now?
4. Social media is here to stay for us to love – and to hate.
Having a website and not being part of the social media world is just not even a thinkable option. Social media is the ‘evil twin’ of content creation and the best bet to reach out to the world. How it was even done before is hard to even picture these days. So the past year we spent a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and all the other platforms we looked into, tried to figure out, cursed and got something out of. Figuring out what works, how things work, why and why not (good luck with that) is an eternal quest. And a secret pleasure?
The funny side of it is that you actually get to know total strangers you never met and only know by a profile picture and their virtual personality through what they share and how they interact. Some are more savvy than others, sure, but you also realise the world out there is this strange, wonderful mess that gives a lot while sometimes frustrates the bats out of you. But you need breaks from it – that’s a given.
5. The importance of social circles online.
Online, just like in life in general, you quickly learn that walking the walk on your own will be tough. Without supporters, partners, collaborators and especially regular readers, you’ll have a hard time. Without the contacts we made online, we’d be struggling, so a big thank-you to everyone who learned to know us during the year. Here we’d like to mention especially the Art Smart group (hi Jenna, Lesley, Ashley, Murissa, Alexandra, Christina, Jeff, Erin), Thalia from Urban Travel Europe, Lizzie from WanderArti and many more quietly being there for us – thank you!
6. It’s a road to travel on your own (and with the help of some supporters).
A new project often requires challenges and especially in the beginning it’s going to be hard to know if you are doing the right thing or not. It takes time to find your “voice” and while you keep on searching you might look for confirmations for knowing if you do the right things – or not. The best advice is: don’t look.
People are busy and even if you’d like to think so, your project is not that important for them. Of course, you will have your loyal supporters, hopefully: friends, family, and more often, total strangers (just see above). Thank them for the support you get, while they might not even understand how much it can mean to you. And the ones who don’t have time for you, it’s fine as well, you can’t expect everyone to understand, to love, like or sympathise with your ideas and that’s just how life is. But the support we got in form of encouraging words, a comment, a simple Facebook-like was always extremely appreciated. Heck – it still is every single time! So thank you :-).
7. Make a plan, (try to) stick to it, evaluate – and keep on revising it.
When we started we had a pretty clear plan about what we wanted to achieve and how. Of course, eventually you lose track if you’re not careful – and that’s what happened to us as well. If we look back now and think about what we thought then, a year ago, compared to what we’ve done, the gap is tremendous. We wish we would be way-way further than where we are now, but given we did all on our own, it’s not surprising either.
We made the mistake of losing the focus along the road, and also focusing on the wrong things here and there. Focusing on too many things as well. We’re sure there were reasons for this, but we still wish we would’ve been a bit smarter around how we executed our plan. So an advice for the world out there: make a plan, spend time on it, understand it, be realistic and keep evaluating and changing. And never forget why you do what you do.
8. You will lose face, you will make mistakes – but it’s ok.
Being active online you beg to be in people’s eyes. What you do will be seen by others and not everyone will understand. There will be other hick ups as well clearly exposed for the world to see: you present a plan publicly and others can see what is happening and you just don’t end up delivering. But at the end you know what? It’s ok. If you’re convinced enough about what you want to do and you get some confirmation that it’s not a total waste, just keep on doing it, make mistakes, and learn from them, do things better the next time, while always doing your best and stay honest to yourself and others.
At the end, that’s all you can ask from yourself.
9. Online entrepreneurship is not a “4-Hour Work-week” leading to riches.
When we started speculating and dreaming of this great idea of online entrepreneurship, we were well aware of Tim Ferris’s 4-Hour Workweek bestseller. No, we were not that naive to think that by starting Art Weekenders we’d be rich by only working now and then from the beach and the money would tick in to our PayPal account (because that’s what online entrepreneurs tend to use mostly) while we swing around in our hammocks. Although we were not under the illusion of this utopia, we kind of been influenced by the essence of the message, as long as you have some nice ideas and you work hard eventually you will get there… Well, maybe, but maybe not. It’s not easy although there are plenty of possibilities if you just find the right bolts to tighten and loosen. All along you will need to be smart – and just forget quick success.
We occasionally de-prioritised all other work, and thereby money, to be able to build the ideas around Art Weekenders. Well, maybe not the smartest of our approaches. If you want to be serious about your business, website or blog it’s great, but before you have a proven success and you’re on the trail of an attractive solution, it’s just much better to rely on some steady money on the side. Yes, you can take our word for it. We’re more realistic now and balance things out by working on our other freelance projects, within our “old-school careers”, but it’s easy to be carried away and do what you really want to do instead of doing what you possibly should. Or shouldn’t you…?
10. Art is (still) misunderstood. Time to Change it!
Art Weekenders is somewhere at the intersection where art and travel meet, and we think it’s one of the great crossroads in life to be at. However, we still notice sometimes that art is occasionally misunderstood, or art sometimes makes itself easily misunderstood by being pretentious or elitist. We definitely think there’s a strong movement away from it, especially in cities like our Amsterdam, but art is still often looked upon as something for the “elite”.
We think this is not how art should be looked at though. We think art should be something approachable and a bridge-builder, and actually it often is without people realising this. There are few forums that are that good at explaining or confusing our world, and thereby giving us the opportunity to look at it with new eyes. We would never consider ourselves as art experts, we are enthusiasts who learn more and more about it and we are people who think that art often triggers something inside us that otherwise would be missed. Art should be entertainment and for involvement – and that’s exactly what our goal with Art Weekenders has been – and will remain. Art to be approachable and not to intimidate.
What Will Happen Now?
So that’s a little summary of the main things we’ve learned and experienced. It’s been a challenging year in many ways, but we also think that it helped us in growing. Now the question is: the new knowledge we have, how are we going to apply it? Is it lessons learned just to be forgotten, or can we do something productive with it? On the personal level we definitely have new experiences, which wouldn’t have been possible to achieve if we chose to stick to our old lives, within the safety of our careers we worked and studied hard for earlier. It was basically a year for pushing our boundaries, disregarding the comfort zone. For good and for bad.
When it comes to what we are here “producing” for – Art Weekenders – we definitely feel that we have built a foundation we are proud of, something we worked hard for and that we believe we can build further upon. And we will.
Art Weekenders remains our baby for the future, our side project that we care very much about and want to constantly make better. We work on the side, of course – so here’s some promotion for our “other lives”: Do you need good advice from a trademark lawyer? Contact Lydian! Do you need a financial consultant to sort out your company’s management accounting and reporting? Get in touch with Pal. We’re good (borderline fantastic really haha), committed and we put a lot of pride into what we are delivering.
But back to Art Weekenders: the plan is to implement quite many changes. To start with, we feel we need to freshen up the design and structure of the website, so we are working on that now, soon you’ll see us in our new “outfit”. We will focus in more and more on the concept of what an ‘Art Weekend‘ really means – it feels like we sort of drifted away from that original idea a bit and we want to get back to it. We will also keep an eye on new artists we like and create a space for them on our pages. We are planning on extending our partnership ideas too, we think it’s important to create networks of similar-minded bloggers, artists or businesses and grow together. Interested? Get in touch. And there’s much more to come…
Our First Year – summarised
But before turn pages, we can have a final look back at this first year. We know that not every article we put up has necessarily been interesting for everyone, or maybe good even, we know that certain projects we took upon us we had to scrap (where are our exhibition agendas, you might wonder?), but we know that we did it because we thought that there was a potential value in it for someone.
We had some great collaborations, we started a year ago with covering the Affordable Art Fair here in Amsterdam (on the agenda this week again, starting on Thursday the 30th October). We discovered new artists – Vincent Serritella’s ‘Project 365’ through Kickstarter, as recently as last week we had an interview with Urszula Korwin Kochanowska about her clouds – coverages we’d like to do more of, both because we like it and also since we know how important it is for artists to get some publicity and to gain recognition for the hard work they invest into creating.
We’ve been in the middle of legal cases (Lydian is a lawyer after all, hehe), following the Red Ball around through the world and a copyright infringement case. We followed great events, like the Amsterdam MuseumNacht and the Rotterdam Architecture Biennale. We’ve been rubbing shoulders with celebrities, big and small. Yup, it’s true. When the Rijksmuseum had a revolutionary new way of presenting its collection via the concept of ‘Art Is Therapy’, the man behind the idea, the philosopher Alain de Botton was here and we were part of the discussions and the press showing of the exhibition ‘Art As Therapy‘. He was pretty ok. We also met many other “creators”, who opened our eye for big and small things, like the Dutch architect Winy Maas for the Markthal in Rotterdam, or the photographer David Mosse‘s mesmerising project at Foam Amsterdam, entitled ‘The Enclave‘. Press openings like the before mentioned ones are great fun and often eye-openers: a possibility to see art as a tool to understand our society better.
We’ve also been travelling with Art Weekenders quite a bit during the year. Our trip highlight was our trip to Riga as the guests of the European Capital of Culture year, a great experience in a great city, connected with a trip to the Rothko Centre in Daugavpils. Just very recently we’ve been away to Italy for another “professional highlight” for our Art Weekender-year, as guests for the organisation ‘TBDI – Travel Blogger Destination Italy‘, as part of the largest Italian travel fair, TGG, held every year in Rimini. We were there as one of the top travel bloggers, an honour and a networking opportunity we were very happy for. Thus, count on some Italy-coverage in the near future on our pages.
What People Read
Over the course of the year we published close to 200 articles and some of them were left behind as drafts, or never even made it that far. Some of the stories got nice exposure, others just disappeared in the Internet-noise, we’d say maybe some deservedly, others maybe not. Our stats kept on showing a nice growth for most of the year, except during the summer, when we kind of had to take a break and reflect over where we are actually standing – but now we are once again fully up to speed and the daily visits are looking better than before. During the year some of our articles fared better than others, in some cases we think it’s logical, in others it’s more of a surprise. Here below are the five most popular ones.
Tying back to our adventures through South America, one of our stories as part of the monthly Art Smart Roundtable was covering Botero’s voluminous sculptures with Medellin, Colombia, as the starting point. The article was immediately well-received and later on it was also picked up well in Google’s search results. Thanks to these two factors, it’s the article that ended up being our most read – and looked at, since it’s packed with pictures – article during the year.
The story here is very similar to the Botero-one above. Also this article was the result of the monthly ArtSmart round of articles, linking back to Lydian’s travels in Japan and this special island focused totally on art. Google likes it too, it keeps giving us a nice amount of search traffic.
As a result of our trip to Riga, we started off our reporting when we got back with this article, which thanks to nice exposure on social media thanks to the Riga Tourism Board immediately generated a lot of visits.
For this article we have no good explanation really. It was meant as one of the filler articles, we never even promoted it, but Google somehow keeps on directing readers to it. Fair or not, that’s how it is and it keeps resulting in more and more page views from search results. Beats us, but hey, we are not complaining.
We already mentioned Rotterdam and the Architecture Biennale above and our experience in the company of the architect Winy Maas. It was a great experience and we are very happy to see that it was well received and keeps being so. Just recently the Markthal officially opened and it’s already a big hit – a visit we can highly recommend.
And Finally. Thank you.
If you are one of the people who has been around during this year and followed us and you’re still here reading this: thank you! As we hinted above, without the support we got it would be tremendously more difficult to reach any of it. So thank you like a million times. If you are by any chance a new reader who happened to stumble upon us via this “open letter to the world”, we hope we can see you back again; there’s not much we ask for, just pop in once in a while and check out what we do and hopefully let yourself be inspired, or comment and share our stories if you are so inclined, we definitely appreciate it.
For the rest? Here’s to the future.
Lydian & Pal
The Art Weekenders