How it all began….
Britton Struthers is no stranger to tackling difficult issues. The Centerville, VA native had spent her early teen years learning about event planning and service work, so when her high school advisor suggested applying to LearnServe—a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering students to use social innovation to create positive change within their communities—she immediately jumped on board.
Britton spent her junior year developing the Confidence Project, a conference designed to inspire self confidence in teenagers. She was inspired by the insecurities she observed in her own peer group, as well as the difference that could be made simply by voicing those fears out loud:
“So many of my friends were struggling with self-confidence issues; it’s not a unique thing. I found that when we got together and spoke about it, I realized how crazy it was that we all felt so similarly despite having such different high school experiences.”
Britton’s project embodied LearnServe’s emphasis upon the commonalities between students. The program works to bring students of different socioeconomic backgrounds together to collaborate on projects that will benefit all of their communities.
The mentorship and development support Britton received with the Confidence Project developed her skills in fundraising and networking, which she soon applied to a new goal: providing support to families in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Britton organized a fundraiser and cultural celebration called Wepa!Thon that included traditional foods, arts and crafts, and a Zumba marathon. Only three weeks after the original idea, Britton and her family welcomed over 500 supporters and raised almost $14,000.
“I was able to do that because of what LearnServe taught me: how to take an idea and initiate into the next step.”
The fall after the successful Wepa!Thon--and another year of working with LearnServe--Britton arrived as a freshman at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Looking for opportunities to apply the event planning and fundraising skills she’d developed through her earlier projects, she stumbled upon the application for On The Rocks.
On The Rocks was founded at the University of St. Andrews in April 2009 as a sophisticated platform to feature student art. Now the largest student-run arts festival in all of Scotland, On The Rocks features fashion shows, orchestral performances, drama, filmmaking, visual arts, and more. While the majority of artists are St. Andrews students, groups have come from as far as Italy to showcase their work and have the opportunity to perform in front of new and diverse audiences. The festival encourages anybody who wants to put any kind of art-related display in the public eye to submit their work, and even includes events such as career panel talks, a music café, and “Art on the Rocks,” an interactive exhibit that is put up all around town in the weeks leading up to the festival.
Britton applied to join the forty-five-member student board, and her skills gained at LearnServe were immediately put to the test. On The Rocks features multiple events throughout the year leading up to the actual festival in April, including murder mystery dinners and smaller performances, all of which needed to be coordinated in addition to the festival itself. The team strongly emphasizes their relationship with the town of St. Andrews, not only in an effort to support the university’s relationship with the town but also to encourage locals to submit their own work and attend the festival.
All of the festival’s programming sends an unequivocal message of support for youth taking part in art, showcasing and embracing their work, and the power of the arts to bring people together. On The Rocks encourages the use of art as a means of communication between people, bridging the gaps in student experiences to create a community that celebrates both the uniqueness and the commonalities between individuals.
As for Britton, On The Rocks has provided an incredible opportunity for her to combine her previous work in event planning, fundraising, and student support:
“On The Rocks is an awesome program that lets students express art in any form they want to. It’s crazy that you can get something like that done; you think people put on these huge events because they have all this money and connections, but you can do it. You may need those things, but you can foster them.”
But Britton is also quick to credit her inspiration to the incredible team she has had the opportunity to worth with on the festival:
“The more people I meet, the more it encourages me to do amazing things, as well. If you don’t get involved, you don’t meet those amazing people. You have to take every single opportunity.”
Students directing On The Rocks dedicate tremendous amounts of time and effort to organizing the festival. As the Festival Director, Chloe Ashley, now a junior at St. Andrews, reflects:
“I’ve grown so much with my confidence by pulling off what seems like such a daunting task. It’s helped me gain so much confidence in my ability, in a way that’s so different than studying. This is so much more like an actual full-time job.”
Britton’s original interest in her own Confidence Project may have led her to a program equally dedicated to developing self-confidence in the students it supports, just with a bit of a creative twist.
How we got to help
On The Rocks enables students and the larger St. Andrews community to share in the beauty and power of artistic expression, but organizing the largest student-run arts festival in Scotland—not to mention the 40+ additional events On The Rocks hosts annually—doesn’t come cheap. As the leadership team considered additional events they were interested in hosting to expand and support the artistic communities involved in the festival, Britton started reflecting on her own past experiences in fundraising. Her previously successful fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Maria had used GoFundMe, but she knew that LearnServe was recommending Givebutter to its participants.
“We only used GoFundMe because we were familiar with it, but they took 10% of our profits, which was kind of a lot. It’s also not a super dynamic platform. I had learned about Givebutter through LearnServe, and it seemed perfect for the festival. Not just because they don’t take as many funds, but also because of the team aspect: we all have different profiles where we can send out the personalized link. A big part of crowdfunding is the personalized link: if you’re not directly asking someone, the emotion and trust factor isn’t there”
The On The Rocks team built their Givebutter campaign to “continue to provide the St Andrews community and many others with a greater sense of community an amazing opportunity to explore the arts and showcase the talents that lie in our small town.”
On The Rocks is fast approaching—the festival takes place for an entire week from April 5th to April 13th at the University of St. Andrews. We can be sure that Britton will have her hands full until then, managing the hundreds of artists and the thousands of guests with the rest of the executive team.
But even after the event is over, we doubt that Britton is going to slow down. When we asked about how she’s thinking about next steps, she said:
“I sometimes put blocks on myself because I say, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ But when I say that, what I really need to say instead is, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ without that block. All you have to do is start with something. Get an idea down, something that really makes you upset and therefore you’re really passionate, or something you love to do and therefore are also really passionate. Then trust yourself to get it done despite whatever other people are saying. ‘Yes, I can. Yes, I’ll figure it out. I’ll get it done somehow.’ It’s about advocating for yourself and believing in what you’re doing. Other people aren’t going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.”
We certainly believe in you, Britton.