2019 was a record year for Hollyhock, and 2020 started out even better. CEO Peter Wrinch says they were expecting 20% more guests this year compared with last year. The leadership team was excited about the prospect of doing facility upgrades, introducing new programming and creating better employment – until the COVID crises began. Now they are asking what will Hollyhock look like in 2021?
“Hollyhock has been in operation for thirty-eight years. We’ve never had a season like this. It is like we are all learning a new job. And we are also in the middle of a generational transfer from a founder group that came of age in the 1970s to a new generation,” said Wrinch.
Most Programs Cancelled
“We made all those hard calls in the first three weeks. We couldn’t welcome back most of our seasonal staff on Cortes and effectively closed the Vancouver office. With the restrictions in place, the office was not being used. Overnight, we became virtual workers. At first, I thought it was great, but I now see some of the limitations of working virtually. My hope is that we will have a Vancouver office again.”
“The really heartbreaking part for me, outside of the untold human tragedy of the pandemic, was that I was really looking forward to continuing to innovate on our employment model. Our leadership team was excited to continue to work on our organizational culture, continue to increase our equity and diversity work, and to add more health benefits for our staff.”
Instead, most of the 100 programs originally slated for 2020 have been cancelled.
Five Programs This Year
Hollyhock is offering five programs, by local presenters, this year.
“This would include [people like] Bill Ophoff, who does Discover Cortes, and Paul Stamets’ mushroom programs. The reason we didn’t cancel those is we thought, if they are local and have some registrations – maybe we would attempt to run them. We are employing a sense and respond approach. If it doesn’t feel right or a bunch of registrations fall out, then we probably won’t run them,” said Wrinch.
Our Essential Team
Up until this year, Hollyhock has been one of Cortes Island’s principal employers.
Now they have 15 full and part time staff on the island.
There are also another five off-islanders who work remotely.
“We’ve been running since March 2020 with what I am going to call our essential team. With the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy, our plan is to hire back five to seven staff, Most of them are in place, but there will be a couple of new ones,” explained Wrinch.
The garden is one of the few areas where they have not cut back.
“A lot of our garden was converted to food production for Cortes residents of need and the 55 part-time-staff that were not recalled this year.”
This summer, Hollyhock is opening up its tent sites and some very limited accommodation for people who want to come and connect with the land. They are prioritizing BC residents and watching the numbers very closely. Hollyhock is also offering some contact-less take-out meals.
They also expanded into the virtual world.
“We held a number of virtual programs, most of them as free offerings to the community.”
One of the things he is most proud of, in the last few weeks, is Hollyhock’s participation in the current worldwide conversation about systemic racism. Two hundred and sixty-eight people attended the initial 90-minute-long call.
“We pivoted our virtual programming to hold big conversations about race and racism. We really want to be an organization that can hold big conversations in big moments. It feels like this is a really important moment for North America and the world … We are doing a series on race, which includes a space for folks to reflect on their own relationship and complicity with racism.”
What Are You Unwilling To Go Back To?
As he ponders Hollyhock’s future, Wrinch is inspired by Charles Einsenstein’s essay “The Coronation.
“Einsenstein says, ‘what are you unwilling to go back to? What parts of your life, or your business, or your organization are you unwilling to go back to?’”
“I was talking to Andrea a couple of days ago and asked, ‘What would it be like if there were some parts of the way we employed people that we would be unwilling to go back to? What if instead of employing a broad spectrum of people, we made our employment deeper? So we looked at what would it look like if we offered health benefits for as many people as possible? Where are the opportunities we have at this time?”
“This is going to be a tough financial year … ”
Hollyhock spreads across 48 acres. There are numerous buildings, gardens and other infrastructure – all of which cost money.
“This is going to be a tough financial year,” says Wrinch.
He added, “Hollyhock is a break-even not for profit, at best. Some years it loses money; some years it has a small surplus.”
There was a surplus in 2019.
“Luckily, we entered 2020 in a decent financial position. That position is helping us weather this storm,” said Wrinch.
And it is not enough.
Hollyhock was only able to retain limited staff because of Federal funding.
We Need to Raise $500,000
“We need to raise $500,000 by the end of this year and our goal is to raise a million by April 2021.”
“The $500,000 will keep us whole; the million will allow us to tackle big questions – like how do we provide employment on Cortes? How do we continue to push our social mission, which is connecting people to themselves, to others and to the natural world?”
What Will Hollyhock Look Like in 2021?
“We are really relying on the stewards of this organization, not only to help us through this year with philanthropic giving, but to help us imagine what Hollyhock can look like into the future …”
“We’re starting to wonder, are we going to be able to operate at full capacity next year?”
“Do we have to operate at limited capacity?”
“We are going to have an in-person season next year. What it’s going to look like isn’t clear, but we are going to layer virtual offerings on top of that. “
COVID gave Hollyhock an opportunity to reexamine their mandate.
“We’ve been a seasonal business. What would it look like to expand, so you have your busy warm season and a cold season where there were much fewer people? Like a writer’s residency. Or a garden residency? Or a building residency?”
“Some of our buildings were constructed in the 1970s (when the site was the Cold Mountain Institute) by crews of students taking part in building residencies connected to universities and other institutions. What would it look like to bring back some of that experiential learning as a resident?”
“These are the questions we are asking right now.”