What's going on? I started running Stoneflower Studio workshops nine years ago. (Is it really nine years? Gosh.) For the first seven years or so the classes were always full. Always. And I usually had a waiting list too. Then a couple of years ago there was a very sudden change. Not only did I struggle to fill my own workshops, but other venues who had booked me as a tutor would call a week before the class to say they had cancelled it because of lack of take up.
I love teaching workshops and opening doors to a lifetime of creativity and satisfaction. I love seeing the pure joy and pride on students' faces when they achieve something they had never thought possible. I love seeing the excitement dawn as they realise what else they could do. I've seen those expressions on several hundred faces now.
Perhaps that's it. Perhaps I've simply taught everyone in the north of England and there is no-one left to come to my workshops? No, that can't be it. There must be at least four or five people left, enough for a class anyway.
I've noticed an increase in 'places still available' posts and tweets from other tutors so I don't think it's just me. I wonder if it's simply that there are so many other options for people to spend a day or weekend learning a new skill now. There was a time when 'art class' would mean drawing or watercolour or very occasionally lino printing. Now there is a huge wealth of crafts and skills on offer, and I am definitely not complaining about that. The more creativity that goes on rather than passive consumption the better. I love trying out new things myself: I've got a wire goose in my garden that I made at a day class, and I made some astonishingly pretty things at a silver clay workshop given by my amazing friend Emma Mitchell, aka Silverpebble. I've spent a day making fairies with Samantha Bryan and am planning to book a bread making class and a chair caning weekend.
Or perhaps it's not so much that people are going elsewhere, as that they just aren't going to workshops at all. Yesterday I read an article suggesting that instead of looking to 'real people' to teach us skills we are increasingly turning to Google and YouTube to tell us anything and everything. Again I can't complain about that; YouTube has imparted all sorts of useful gems to me, from fixing a faulty loo flush to pinching out sweet peas. I have picked up a lot of printmaking tips that way too, and in the spirit of paying it forward I now make demonstration videos myself.
But you can't ask a video questions. You can't share a laugh. You can't show your computer screen what you've done and get instant feedback and advice. Your tablet doesn't provide you with materials and equipment. You can't switch off for the day and concentrate on what you're learning if, by definition, you are hooked up to the internet. And most importantly, (let's get our priorities straight), your smartphone doesn't make you tea and cake.
What a shame it will be if personal face to face art teaching dies out. I don't want to stop giving people the chance to learn a new skill this way, but it looks like the old system of setting dates and inviting bookings just isn't working anymore. It's frustrating and time wasting for me and disappointing for the person who books a workshop only to be told later it has been cancelled (and I really, really hate sending those emails). I will have to come up with a new way of doing this.
...I think I'd better think it out again.
Update 10 June: I think I might have come up with an answer.