After Canada 150: Artpreneuer conference aims to help artists navigate the way ahead

Malika Welsh is helping organize Artpreneur. Photo: Maggie Parkhill

By Maggie Parkhill

With the curtain about to come down on Canada 150 celebrations, local artists are beginning to look ahead for fresh opportunities to showcase their work. But in case they need some help, the annual Artpreneur gathering is a ready resource.

The annual conference has been held in Ottawa since 2013. The year’s event on Nov. 4 has been dubbed Canada 151: Let’s Get to Work to highlight the challenge facing artists.

“We create things that are beautiful and thought-provoking, but how do we get those creations into a gallery, or how do we get those creations onto a stage?” says Artpreneur organizer Malika Welsh of the Ottawa School of Art. “It’s about going from being a punk band in your basement to showing out at Club SAW.”

Welsh says that by connecting artists connect to local business leaders, artists can learn how to grow their work and their audience.

“If you’re going to be making a website, if you’re going to do promo videos, how do you go about doing that?” Welsh asks. “All of those interpersonal and business skills that artists may not have picked up, that is what we want people to take away from the conference.”

The event Saturday is at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans.

Artpreneur is bringing together artists and business leaders who have met the challenge getting art to a market to show attendees that they can make it, too.

The keynote presentation will be by Alexandra Badzak, director of the Ottawa Art Gallery, in discussion with The Latest Artists (aka Andrew and Deborah O’Malley) and visual artist Anna Williams.

“We’ve gone through this whole year of spectacle and great opportunities for artists in all disciplines,” says Welsh, “but what happens after that?

“How do we keep that momentum and keep that disruption going through the next year?” Welsh asks. She says she hopes to continue this discussion at the conference, brainstorming ways to keep creating opportunities for artists moving forward.

“We’re looking to leave you with both the hard skills to promote yourself in any discipline, but also looking at what the future entails,” she says.

When it comes to the future of the arts in Ottawa, Welsh isn’t worried.

“I feel like the direction that Ottawa is going when it comes to celebrating our arts and our artists is only positive,” she says.

Welsh has lived and worked in the arts industry in Ottawa for 10 years. She paints with oils, doing mostly figure work and some illustration, and has also previously curated arts exhibits and facilitated an arts therapy program for children at the Centretown Community Health Centre.

According to Welsh, the arts community in Ottawa has only grown. She attributes this to conferences like Artpreneur and other workshops and programs that keep artists in Ottawa. According to the Ottawa Arts Council, membership increased by 15 per cent last year, and it is awarding more funds to artists than ever before.

This is Welsh’s third year working on the conference, and she says collaborating with other local arts organizations as well as with the City of Ottawa on this event epitomizes the benefits of being an artist in the capital.

“It’s a family in that way, and it’s easier to get to know everyone,” Welsh says. “If you’re somewhere like Toronto or Montreal… it’s harder to get to know the artist down the street.”

Welsh herself is evidence that artists in Ottawa can succeed in making a living for themselves. After attending Toronto’s prestigious Etobicoke School of the Arts, she decided she wanted to pursue art at university.

“My parents were like, ‘Malika, that’s not going to make you any money,’” she laughs. “But you can do that for a living.” 

Welsh attended Carleton University, where she studied art and communications; now she uses both of those skills as the fundraising co-ordinator for the Ottawa School of Art.

There are still a few spots available for local artists to register to participate in the conference. Tickets are $75, or $25 for students.

This story was produced in collaboration with the Carleton University journalism program and Centretown News.

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