I’m back.  I know its been a while (again) but often I’m just too tired by the evening and writing this blog seems a bit naughty during the day.  I feel like I ought to be doing ‘proper work’ as they say.  However, when I find the energy I do enjoy it, so lets get on with it now I’m here.

Despite having covered a lot of ground there is just so much more to tell.  I can’t believe that in 2016, which will be here in a blink of an eye I’ve no doubt,  I will have been established 25 years.  It just doesn’t seem real. So, where to go now? What to tell? My husband suggested I just put down whatever comes into my head as putting everything into chronological order will be just too difficult and he is right. Therefore, I will leap to the scariest thing I ever did and then lets see where that leads…

The scariest thing I ever did

What do you think that was? Borrowing lots of money? Dealing with an aggressive artist/customer?  Telling an artist their art work had been stolen or broken? None of these things, although all are pretty scary.  The scariest thing I ever did was…..

…….taking on my first employee.

Employing staff

old staff & volunteers

Staff and volunteers at Cupola’s 10th anniversary party.

Wow!  This is hard.  I have been blessed and continue to be blessed by the amazing staff I have employed over the years, but boy is it hard.  Lesley, on the far left of this picture was my first full time member of staff.  She started as a volunteer, as did nearly everyone who has ever worked for me.  Partly for their own benefit I have to say, as there have been more than a few who have tried it and not stayed. It’s hard work.  Much harder than most people imagine.

I did have a part time employee before this but sadly she suffered a serious motorbike accident, and although she recovered, she never came back to work for me. A number of years ago though, she got in touch to tell me that she had popped up to visit the gallery just to see it and said that she felt it hadn’t changed much.  I took this as a compliment.

The picture above was from Cupola’s 10 year anniversary party.  Everyone in this picture I still know and am in contact with apart from the lady on the far right (Sam) who went back to London to work I believe.  All were and are amazing people.  Very generous, hard working and talented. I can safely say Cupola would not be where it is today without the many talented staff and volunteers I have had the pleasure and luck to work with over the years.

So, why was taking on a member of staff so scary?  Lots of reasons.  The primary one, of course, being that fact that when there is no money to pay me, I simply go without.  However, that can’t happen with staff. Cash flow and sales are notoriously unpredictable in the arts especially when you are showing new, contemporary work by unknown artists.  However, I have never been risk averse, so I did it.  Money stresses are the worst. Difficulties paying artists on time and trouble paying staff are the two things that still keep me awake at night and have made me ill in the past.  I always try to put staff and artists first and it is always worth it, but it is rarely easy.

Coming back to Lesley;  I think Lesley more than most saw significant changes whilst she was at the gallery.  When Lesley first started with me, there was no heating at the gallery and only an outside toilet.  She wrote her first invoice/receipt I think on top of a portable calor gas heater and I still remember the look of delight on her face the day I bought her an ‘in tray’.  Oh the joys of small pleasures! Because I had been used to doing everything, customers had become used to only dealing with me and it took longer than you would imagine for people to deal with Lesley.  This was quite a source of frustration for Lesley and at one point she joked that she was going to make a ‘Karen mask’.  This was to be used in order to make sure that Lesley would become instantly visible to the customer in question.  Lesley felt that she was often ignored due to the simple fact of not being me.  People, especially in Sheffield  I find, are very loyal and take a while to accept new people.  One day I suggested that Lesley change the way she answered the phone.  I suggested she say “Hello, I’m Lesley and I can pay you.”  This helped a lot.

Having a member of staff created massive and positive changes as I needed to start to create systems.  I didn’t have many/any as I managed everything and I am blessed/cursed with an excellent memory, which means that I tended simply to know where things were and or what needed doing. Therefore, there was not any kind of system in place that Lesley could enter into.  So, they had to be created. This was good.  Once a system is in place I will (generally) follow it.  Also, it was rather lovely not being on my own.  I was very busy, extraordinarily busy, and so rarely felt alone, as my head was always buzzing with the various jobs I needed to deliver or consider.  It is a testament to Lesley that she coped with me(!) as well as created and implemented new systems. She challenged me and supported me and I will always be grateful.

Lesley stayed with me for 6 years before moving on.  We had our moments of conflict but also many laughs as well as shared trials.  Always glamorous (up a ladder with a hammer in her hand in her ‘heels’) Lesley became a firm favourite with some of my customers and we were all sad to see her go. I learned a lot from her and I hope she learned plenty from her time at the gallery too.

Lesley was the first, but there have been plenty more and will be still more in the future I’m sure. I hope I have improved as a boss since my early days, but I know they’ll always be room for improvement.


Cupola's 20th anniversary - staff .

Staff shot for Cupola’s 20th anniversary show.

I’ll leave it here for now but expect ‘Lesley’ anecdotes to surface in future posts, as there are many stories to share from those early years.  Lesley herself may even remind me of some of them…


Thanks for reading. Until next time.