I was talking with a young friend recently who said she had been thinking about I Am More and all the potential she saw in the project, and the inspiration it gives. She was full of ideas for collaborations and portrait subjects and she reminded me of someone I knew a while ago. Me.
Three years of countless meetings, failed grant-writing, begging, negotiating, and chasing found me crawling to the finish line in meeting my fundraising goals, exhibit goals, and finishing 36 portraits. I was done. I had been warned that grants for individual artists are almost non-existent, which is why this project was almost entirely funded by the generosity of friends and family like you (thank you!). My non-profit CEO husband advised me NOT to start a non-profit after spending decades organizing the required boards, audits, fundraising, and staff, which is now more challenging than ever with all the competition from worthy causes. Having Ocean Alliance as the fiscal sponsor of I Am More through which people could contribute tax-deductible donations saved us having two non-profits in our marriage.
The feedback from the exhibits was startling and the stories we shared still take my breath away. I was crazy with pride for these individuals and what they had accomplished, so why was it so hard to bring it to the public?
Listening to my friend share her visions got me caught up in the original spirit. I briefly forgot about the labor pains and got excited again. But as I sat there, the memories, the unanswered emails, the rejections started creeping back. As I drove home from our visit I reviewed all the skills that were needed that I didn’t have – fundraising, public speaking, public outreach…it was endless! I was the worst possible person to have this project born into my head–I could draw and listen, and that was about it.
The arrival of the pandemic gave me the best possible excuse to give up. People needed food and jobs. But the same response kept coming back when I explained the project’s hiatus, people need this now more than ever.
Over the past couple of years a small number of people have reached out to me, interested in sharing their stories. I gave them the most ridiculous reply– no, you can’t share your story because I don’t have the skills to raise the money to cover the cost of your portrait. Sorry! Well, enough.
I have paper and I have pencils. I certainly have time, and I have this blog. So if I Am More resonates, and you are ready to share your message in your unique way, let’s do it.
And it’s way more than mental health. Since the project’s early days arising out of my depression, the feedback has been, What about cancer? What about disability? Addiction? What about, I Am More because of...” It’s whatever those words ignite in you.
It’s also not limited to me and what I can bring to the project. If you have a way of expressing what I Am More means to you and how you can utilize it in your life with your skills then get busy with my blessing. We’ve had student art and writing, local artists, live storytelling, and I welcome it all. I would love to hear less, “You should…” and more, “I will…” I’m going to draw and listen, how about you?
To make a tax-deductible contribution to I Am More to support new portraits and exhibits go to the Ocean Alliance donations page and choose “I Am More” from the list of programs. If you would like to share your story, create, host, or in any other way participate, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.