State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

More to us than lakes and docks…PART 2

There are many ways to run a business. I come from a family of entrepreneurial types. My father was once a company man and worked his way up the executive ladder for years until one day they rewarded him by firing him (there were more polite terms in those days but frankly this is what they did as they moved much of their operations to cheaper climes). His is the classic late 20th century story:  You start as part of the workforce which meant loyalty to the company you worked for and your rewards were job security and upward mobility. But then the world changed, shareholders took over from owners and these ‘company men’ were let go so that profit could be maximized with cheap labour somewhere else. My dad then decided companies were for chumps and began his own string of mildly successful businesses.

Becoming a professional artist wasn’t completely out of left field in my family. Artists run their own show to a certain extent and spend most of their time raising money to do what they want. You could say the same for entrepreneurs. There are enormous downsides to this kind of paradigm; so many entrepreneurs are not so much married to what they are doing as married to getting rich through owning the whole shebang. Thus you have loads of small businesses that are based on really stupid ideas, get rich quick schemes and criminal intent. In this sense drug lords could be called effective entrepreneurs.

Of course the upside to these unfettered proprietors can be inspiring and make a community a much better place to live. When someone goes out on a limb to start a business that comes from their heart and head it usually works. You need both – passion and reason. I have seen many wonderfully intended business ideas disappear in an instant. The entrepreneur may have really wanted their idea to work but they didn’t have the capitol or the support, or most times, the management skills. As an artist I understand this struggle. Without capitol, a sugar daddy, funding, luck and skill, no amount of drive can make you successful.

Dockside Russell Red Guest House, redefining the b&b. If you stay take a tour of their art & music collections.

Where I live people move here for the most part because they want something different than climbing a corporate ladder in order to afford a million dollar home in downtown Toronto. Businesses start here because the owners love the lifestyle; a swim at the end of the day, dark and quiet nights, wearing crocs without debilitating fashion shame and seeing your impact in real terms. You don’t get lost in the shuffle in a place with only 16,000 year round residents. Businesses, other than the obvious trades like plumbers, electricians etc. survive here only if they have been well thought out, well researched, smartly conceived and realize they can’t rely on the same income in January that they get in July.

This year saw no less than four small businesses opening in Minden and Haliburton, each with their own smart sensibility and aesthetic raising the standard for new shops in town. In Minden there is Sassy Digs, a home décor boutique offering custom design and local art work; Upriver Trading Company, a gift shop, café, ice cream bar, and (soon to be) wine bar with the loveliest patio in the area also selling local artist’s designs. In Haliburton we have Baked and Battered, a desperately needed good fish and chip shop with a cozy café attached (a fireplace and gluten free snacks!) and the Russell Red Guest House, a tiny but gorgeous B&B on Kashawigamog Lake whose owners are steeped in a comprehensive idea of what culture is and good at sorting the great stuff up here for visitors to do from the less than great stuff. What all these business owners have in common is that their intention was to enhance their community with needed entities, not move in and dominate. Small towns have had enough of that “big fish in small pond” attitude. We want people to come and work with us, not run us.

Most importantly, each of these businesses has a connection to the culture of the place they are in.  They want to be involved in local events, post notices about local art exhibitions and have reached out to the art community in a myriad of ways. These are entrepreneurs who measure their success in more ways than just financial.  They can understand us artists, see our use and want to work with us because in many ways we want the same thing, a vibrant community that we can love and stay living in.

State of the Arts will return September 5

Pic courtesy The Russell Red Guest House


4 thoughts on “State of the Arts”

  1. Hi Victoria,

    I really wanted to respond to your article about Artists Becoming Business People. You mention that most artists do not make a living with their art except the very aggressive ones. As an artist that has a Masters In Business I ask myself the question: What is it that makes this product so hard to sell and at other times so easy? With my business hat on I think it is because we are selling ourselves and art that are bought with “discretionary income”. I wish we were essential like toilet paper but we are not. We are about the finer things in life and these are always bought with discretionary income. In tough times the middle class don’t like to part with their money. The 5% who are rich will still buy but with fewer customers there is more competition. Therefore we really need to know who our customer is, where our paying customers are, what matters to them in their heart (after all art is mostly an emotional purchase unless you are a serious art investor), touch their heart and then close the deal. As artists we love to talk about our art but we are poor salesmen when it comes to asking for the sale. Oh I wish for the past days of patrons and being able to just paint all day, every day.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I believe we need to rebuild the trust and interest of patrons for sure. Art buyers are created not born. Many of the people I have sold to were just entering the art market, being an approachable and interested artist can help these first timers become life timers. I wish art buying and appreciation were taught in school. I’ve said many times art buyers are heroes!

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