The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a collective comprised nearly exclusively of volunteers. We are eager to collaborate with members of the community to host events. However, because our core group is stretched thin, it is extremely important that people who propose events be willing to take on a key leadership role in coordinating and executing them.
There’s a lot we think about before scheduling an event at The Sanctuary for Independent Media. This document is an attempt to set down in writing as much of that process as possible, but there are so many variables that we see each proposal as a special case deserving individual attention. We have found that the most successful events are ones that have an interactive component (rather than just a film screening with no speaker, for example). If in doubt, propose your event and we’ll do our best to accommodate it or tell you the reasons why we don’t think it will work for the Sanctuary.
Event proposals need to be in writing. Feel free to pitch event ideas to Sanctuary folks for feedback as you develop them, but we need to have a written description of anything you want us to consider seriously. There’s no formal application—just write down a few sentences about what you have in mind, with links to additional information, and submit it using the form linked at the bottom of this page. We’ll get back to you with our response as soon as we can (usually within a few days). We’ll need to know what the event is, when it's expected to take place, why you think it is important, who you think will attend and in what numbers, what it will cost and how it will be funded (including artist fees/honoraria, travel expenses and lodging if necessary), how it will be publicized and by whom, and why you think it should be at the Sanctuary rather than somewhere else.
Event submissions are reviewed by our core staff, which coordinates incoming proposals before sending them on to the larger group of Sanctuary volunteers. We will give you initial feedback on your idea shortly after we receive it, but definitive decisions might take weeks even if we like your idea. We get many more submissions than we can accommodate, but a number of the events we end up producing do emerge through this process; the rest are generated in house. All event proposals are entered into a database used to build the Sanctuary seasons, of which there are two; Spring (mid-February through mid-May) and fall (mid-September through mid-December). We rarely program events outside these blocks, and it’s unusual that we add events to a season that’s already in progress. So the lead time necessary for event submissions varies depending on when in the planning process it is proposed.
For the most part our programming is mission-driven, based on the collective desire to serve and help nuture a more enlightened community (from an arts and cultural, intellectual, social justice or related perspective). No one is getting rich at the Sanctuary, but we are having fun while making a small difference and helping to build a movement. In these troubled times, we feel we have to do it and are always looking to make connections with kindred souls wherever they may be on the planet!
We're an essentially all-volunteer, shoe-string operation but what we're doing has been extremely well-received on most fronts because we're honest and professional. We're still working out the business model and are open to innovative suggestions; until now we've operated mainly as a presenting entity and, rarely, as a rental venue.
We need to have some kind of revenue each time we open our doors—to support the venue. There's really no general fund from which we can subsidize operations. This is particularly important during the winter months, when the cost of heating our large uninsulated former church space becomes an issue—not to mention ongoing rent, taxes, utilities, insurance, maintenance, etc.
Our most successful strategy has been to split the door with visiting artists after paying their expenses. While this entails some risk for the artist, it spreads our risk when presenting niche events with no proven local audience (who typically are the only ones for which our approach makes sense anyway!). In other words, our model requires building substantive relationships with potential collaborators (based on trust, shared values and mutual benefit, not commercialism) because the typical guarantee/percentage model requires cash reserves we don't have.
We're not a bar, so the traditional bar models don't work for us. We don’t sell food, so supper club models don’t work. We don’t get much grant funding either, which is the way most other venues do without bar/restaurant receipts. So far we've approached artists whose worldview seems sympathetic with ours, and who are traveling through the area on a weeknight between better-paying engagements in major cities (Boston, NYC, Montreal, etc). Rather than a night off that costs them money, we represent the chance to at least break even (although we've almost always done better than that) plus help build a scene that could pay better on future visits, maybe at bigger and better established venues.
We've developed a very good reputation with the folks we've worked with, because we treat them well, feed them, put them up for the night and do such a serious job with promotion and outreach that they get a good audience and build their name-recognition in the region to boot.
We have substantial fixed expenses in addition to the incremental costs of hosting events. Donating proceeds of our events to other groups—however deserving—is in the realm of suicidal for us! If you can get artists and others to donate their services, it may be possible to develop an event at which we split the door with your group.
Participating in a series of regional screenings of the same film/music/talk in which the potential audience for the event in our space is undercut by many others elsewhere is problematic. We need to draw as many people as possible to meet our expenses and the unfortunate reality of our location in North Troy is that people won't come if there's a venue closer to them. And if they don't come, why are we holding a screening? This isn't so much of a problem with similar events an hour's drive or more away, but when they're scattered throughout the Capital Region (and even in Troy!) it becomes difficult to justify the risk of opening the venue.
Enterprising folks have an obvious interest in getting work seen as widely as possible without regard to the particular circumstances of each potential venue. The strategy of a "massive" coordinated opening makes great sense, and where you can find venues that are open already anyway (and thus have no incremental expense of opening just for you), or have very low overhead (and therefore little to lose), or income from other sources (and hence no financial risk), the benefits are obvious. The problem comes for organizations like The Sanctuary for Independent Media, with relatively little general operating support, relatively high expenses, and no overarching business model with which to subsidize activities that can't support themselves.
Often times (actually, most times) we program work without regard to audience and the potential impact on our bottom line, but usually because we are the local venue of last resort. It becomes difficult to justify when we are but one of many places locally where work can be seen.
We don’t rent the space outright except under unusual circumstances, but we are open to partnerships with sympathetic groups. If you propose example, if you propose an event idea that we’re reluctant to present even though we like it (because we can’t take the financial risk, our staff is too busy, or for whatever reason) for $500 you yourself can guarantee our expenses, and keep anything raised over that amount or give it to the charity of your choice. In other words, if you can find 50 people to pay $10 (or 100 to pay $5, or whatever), you'll break even on the rental of the space and everything above that is yours. If you don't think you can get that many people to come, please consider another venue. The Sanctuary can fit 200 people and isn't suited for all events.
We put co-sponsors’ names on our publicity, put their literature out the night of the show, give them a opportunity to speak briefly at the beginning—in short, we offer a high-quality event they can use for their own networking and outreach.
At a minimum co-sponsors do nothing but encourage people in their organization and on their lists to come out that night; they can call the event their own (ie, BNP presents blah blah at The Sanctuary For Independent Media). It would be nice if they mentioned the other co-sponsors, but not necessary. And, of course, a more substantive organizing relationship between us to develop the event would be ideal.
Very rarely will events be added to the program schedule after it has been printed or after the season has begun. We consider adding an event if it is especially timely, seems likely to draw a significant audience even on short notice, or relates to our programming philosophy in a particularly powerful way. Otherwise, it will be added to the queue for next season.
Please let us know if you have any questions or comments — you can call (518) 272-2390 or use the standard web contact form.