How old do you have to be, to be in business? How many years do you have to try before you succeed at a business venture? Why would anyone want to go into business in the first place?
These are all questions one usually asks oneself before going into business. The usual answers tell stories of entrepreneurs who are old and near retirement after a lifetime of struggling to make ends meet. The reason for going into business in the first place is usually to meet a certain need for certain people with those needs. For example, a restaurant owner who serves food to those who don’t want to do dishes, to those people who don’t have time to cook, or to those who are traveling and don’t have access to their own comfy kitchen. Most of the time, people go into business for many different reasons, like, I need a job, I want to be self reliant, I don’t like my boss and I want to be my own boss. These are all the usual reasons.
Most people who go into business often have to learn how to do it on their own. The Whapmagoostui Art Factory is a rare example of a business that doesn’t meet all the usual expectations of a business success story. What defines success? Is it the amount of money you have at the end of the day? In the case of the Whapmagoostui Art Factory, it is the learning experience and the chance to learn how to do business within a school environment that makes this enterprise unique among Aboriginal businesses.
It all started in 1999 when a teacher at the Badabin Eeyou School in Whapmagoostui, Robert Savoie, noticed that the students seemed to have a natural talent for art. “They are inspired by their intimate knowledge of their culture and it shows in their art,” Savoie said.
In the classroom, which spawned the Whapmagoostui Art Factory, evidence of this statement is everywhere, with the essential goose and wildlife portrayals, the sunsets and campsites hanging up on the walls. As they work on their own individual pieces, they add on their own knowledge of their identity and at the same time, learn of another culture. Leonardo da Vinci is one inspiration for the students, as they are amazed that an old man who died hundreds of years ago had such knowledge of the human body, of technology and of art. It was one particular work that showed the human fetus in the womb that awed the students and got them going to learn about the evolution of the human child in pre-infancy stages.
It was the integration of two programs that were eventually phased out by the Quebec education ministry (Career Choice and Personal Social Development) that made the program possible. Now Raymond Savoie, a teacher who has many years of living in Whapmagoostui, likes to call it the Personal Social Artistic Development program. Where does the business end up mixed in with art at a school, one may ask? Another program that helps students in secondary school learn and understand the basic elements of business, entrepreneurship and management, helped Raymond teach his class just what it takes to make a buck. As a business, the Whapmagoostui Art Factory has been awarded many times and most recently gained recognition from the federal and provincial governments as the “entrepreneur or the year,” something normally reserved for large companies run by people with extensive business experience and education. There are many other awards that the Art Factory is proudly showcasing in the foyer of the Badabin Eeyou School.
As a business, the Art Factory is a learning experience, where business cards, invoices, sales, promotion and marketing are all part of being an entrepreneur. There isn’t much more that your ordinary enterprise does to promote their work. In fact, they have their own website (www.geocities.com/bad-abin99/WAF.html), which inspired another Cree School in Waskaganish to request the Whapmagoostui Art Factory to come show students how they made their business a success, leading them to create their own art factory.
Many of the students don’t have solid opportunities to earn a secure future in the community and come from troubled homes, but the Art Factory gives them a glimmer of hope of their real potential. For example, Savoie says that one of his students “was amazed when I gave him $30. It was a sale from one of the trips the class made to Montreal for one of their exhibitions. ‘Why did they buy this?’ he asked me, and I told him that it was good art and someone was willing to pay for that. So I think that this made an impression on this student, who otherwise didn’t have much going for him when he left the class….”
It is this show of support from buyers and interested collectors that make the Art Factory worthwhile as an education process. At the moment, students of the art class are diligently working on various pieces that reflect the beliefs of the people and will be showcased in the new gathering place or church building that the Whapmagoostui Band and municipality of Kuujjuuarapik have built for their community. The Whapmagoostui Art Factory is indeed, a success story.