And We All Shine On
Originally posted by Alex Kinsella from Communitech News | Jan 29, 2020 | Opinion, Tech About Town
Art influences us daily. It inspires. It challenges. It makes us question what we think we know. And art can open new doors and make a better future possible.
“I’ve always used art as a way to connect with youth, with adults, with people with disabilities or mental health issues,” said Paul Field, the founder and CEO of Artshine. Artshine and its non-profit organization Arts4All is a mobile art social enterprise based out of 44 Gaukel in downtown Kitchener. Artshine’s goal is to help communities across Canada make participation in the arts is available to people at all levels of income, ability or life circumstance.
Field began Artshine six years ago after spending twelve years in social work. “The idea was to go into wealthier neighbourhoods and charge a premium for kids’ programs and use those profits to subsidize free and reduced cost programs in underprivileged neighbourhoods.”
Field initially planned on teaching most of the classes himself. “I started in Elmira and Kitchener, but by the end of that first year I had to hire almost 20 instructors,” he said. “It really took off and filled a need in those communities.”
As Artshine continued to gain traction, Field looked for additional help to scale the operation. “I got accepted into the ASCEnt (Accelerating Social Cause Entrepreneurs) program at Communitech. I was this little arts company and had Geoff Bellew as my mentor,” Field said. “He ripped apart my business plan!”
ASCEnt was a pilot program designed to support social entrepreneurs and guide their companies from ideas to success. Working with the ASCEnt team and mentor Bellew helped Field setup Artshine as a business that could grow. It was during the time with ASCEnt that the Arts4All non-profit was formed. “Geoff helped me develop this social enterprise where the profits go into our non-profit company Arts4All.”
“In each class of 20 students, at least two children are fully sponsored with a scholarship,” said Elena Zur, General Manager at Artshine. “We also offer programs to people living with disabilities in community organizations, senior communities, prisons and centres for at-risk youth. With our in-school programs, we flex our prices, offering subsidized rates in communities that can’t afford to pay full price.”
Artshine focused on operating programs in Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph for the first three years of business. Two years ago they began expanding and now offer programming in 11 other cities including Barrie, Montreal, Niagara and more across Canada. The expansion exposed some new challenges that Field and the Artshine team needed to address. “We can’t always send a staff member to every location,” Field said. “We have programming at a reserve school in Kapuskasing – but when we lost our staff member there, well, they can be difficult to replace.”
Artshine’s solution to this is Artshine in a Box. “Like most of my ideas, they’re crazy, so we ran a Kickstarter campaign last year,” said Field. The goal was to generate $20,000 in pre-orders in 30 days. “We brought in $21,000,” he added. “That was pre-orders and donations. People got ahold of this dream as well. People wanted to help us achieve our dream.”
Artshine in a Box continues the mission to make art accessible to everyone. “With the subscription service, we communicate ‘Get One, Give One’,” said Zur. “This means that for every subscription, we will be giving a lesson to a child in need. This is an extension of the overall Artshine social enterprise model where profits from Artshine’s paid programming are put back into the community through Arts4All.”
Each Artshine in a Box subscription delivers a box to your home with all the supplies needed to complete an art project. The box includes a guide for the project and you also get a password for an instructional video hosted by one of the Artshine instructors.
There are two different box options – one for ages four to six and one for ages seven to 12. “Once a month, you get a box and each is a different medium – paint, pastels, chalk,” added Field. The boxes include extra supplies, too, to make each piece an intergenerational project. “The child can learn the technique and then teach Mom or Grandpa or an older sibling.”
Since launching the subscription service, Artshine has seen demand from south of the border. “We’ve got a ton of American moms asking for this,” Field said. “It’s way different than the service industry. Shipping is a big expense. We’re trying to find a way to keep it reasonable.
The box art was designed by local artist and branding specialist (and #KWFamous co-founder) Robin Lindner of Robin+Elaine. “Robin’s been great – she’s one of our only volunteers. She’s also volunteered with our prison program.”
Artshine’s subsidized programs have a long waitlist and additional staff can help them deliver more programming. “We’re always looking for artists to help design programs and create videos,” said Field. “All you need is a police check and away we go.”
If you’d like to support Artshine, you can sign your child (or niece or nephew) up for one of their in-school Artshine programs or subscribe to ‘Artshine in a Box.’ You can also donate directly to Arts4All through their website.
“We want to inspire kids and give them ownership. I did a program in a teen women’s shelter in Cambridge and had a resident named Mackenzie there assist me,” Field said. “She took over the class. It became a job for her.”
Mackenzie started teaching her peers at the shelter and eventually started selling her own art. “She’s sold thousands of dollars worth,” added Field. “She’s got a job now. She’s travelling. It goes back to someone believing in her and giving her an opportunity. This is why we do what we do.”
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