After working for years as an art educator at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Emma Wales created ArtVentures as a way to bring out clients' inner artists through art parties, school programs, private workshops and its popular "Drink and Draw" nights. We talked to her about how she started, how she's adapted, and what Edmonton's art community means to her.
By Cory Schachtel | May 27, 2020
How did you start ArtVentures?
ArtVentures is the culmination of so many things that I love. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study education or fine art in university, so ended up spending a year in Paris while I figured it out. After my year abroad, I came home to complete a double major in … neither of those things! I actually graduated with a double major in English Literature and the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture from the University of Alberta. While I was in school, I worked as an educator at the Art Gallery of Alberta, which provided me with countless opportunities to work with thousands of students of all ages in both a studio and gallery setting.
Working at the gallery ignited my passion for sharing my love of art-making and art history with others. Upon graduating, I was hungry to create more opportunities to connect people with their creative side, and decided to pursue that passion by launching ArtVentures. The monthly girls nights I hosted in my home slowly evolved in to what is now Drink & Draw (monthly open-ended art workshops for adults hosted out of Anvil Coffee House and the Yellowhead Brewery). I started teaching weekend classes for kids out of my home studio, and I became an approved vendor with Edmonton Public School Board and started offering in-school field trips. ArtVentures is mobile, quality art education and is now in its third operational year.
How did things change for your business?
The pandemic affected so many of us so differently. It completely turned my world upside down. I went from having March and April booked solid to having to cancel EVERYTHING. Birthday parties, school programs, Drink & Draw, private lessons, my group classes … literally every stream of revenue I have depends on people coming together. I definitely felt very shaken and quite frankly lost my sense of purpose. What I struggled with most was seeing how this pandemic was affecting my clients — the parents, teachers and students that suddenly had to turn their worlds upside down. I thought really hard about what I could do to offer them support.
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One of the first things I thought of was creating curated art project supply kits, but the amount of single use plastics that I would need to use to make this affordable is just unthinkable. Sustainability is at the forefront of my mind with all my planning — big shout out to Waste Free Edmonton! Then I thought of digital classes, but all of us are now doing so much with screens already, that didn’t feel like the solution either.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my clients’ needs and the type of support I wanted to offer them. I wanted to provide them with an opportunity to connect with something offline. I wanted to give them open-ended projects that they could do with materials they already have on-hand. I wanted to provide open-ended projects that encourage critical and creative thought. Then, I thought about who I am, and what I have to offer.
Why did you want to start the Creative Readers Club, and what does it involve?
The Creative Readers Club (CRC) really brings my love for literature and my love for art together. By working with what we already have or repurposing items from around our home, CRC is also kind to the earth. The idea is that kids readThe Wild Robot at home, either on their own or with their families (FYI teachers: the publishers have given you permission to record yourself reading this book to your students, with some guidelines to follow). I have an open-ended art project for the end of each chapter. I do my best to offer as many alternatives as possible when it comes to art supplies, and really encourage you to work with what you have on-hand. You do not need to read the book to participate in the art projects, though it does provide context and inspiration. What do you love aboutThe Wild Robot?
The Wild Robot is so accessible to kids, has so many great lessons, and is an instant (and forever) favourite of mine. The chapters are really short (usually 1-4 pages) and cover so many different themes and topics. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone who has already read this book feels the same way. My nine-year-old stepson has read it twice, lent it to friends and is already thinking of reading it again. The Wild Robot has 80 chapters — in other words, 80 open-ended art projects! For any of you who are craving a little structure, I post new videos every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m.
How have youturned Drink & Draw into an online event?
I have teamed up with a wonderful local artist and art instructor, Daphne Côté, to co-host The Emma & Daphne Show! Every Friday night at 8 p.m., we do a live show on YouTube. The show combines connection, friendly banter and art. The idea is that we work in our sketchbooks together while we dive in to a new topic or theme every week. Viewers are invited to sit back and watch, or pull out their sketchbooks and work alongside us. We love doing the show live because it gives us the opportunity to connect with people in the live chat. We tackle different creative prompts every week that go hand-in-hand with our discussion topics.
If you’re hungry for something a little more structured, Daphne and I are also co-teaching monthly registered workshops online called Art Night. This month, we are teaching a Warhol-inspired portrait of Madonna! What do people need to take part?
I am using all my new “free time” to re-do my website (ArtVentures.ca), but the best way to stay up to date with me is on Instagram at @artventuresyeg.
ArtVentures has a shiny new YouTube Channel for the Creative Readers Club, and clubs are more fun with friends, so subscribe and encourage your friends (or class) to join with you. If you do participate in the Creative Readers Club, I would love for you to share your work with me. You can tag me on social media @artventuresyeg and use my hashtag #myartventures. The Creative Readers Club is completely free, but if you would like to support the work that I’m doing, you can support me for $5, $10, or $20/month at Patreon.com/ArtVenturesYEG.
You can also find The Emma & Daphne Show on YouTube. The show is always open to the public and free. For access to our monthly Art Night, sign up by supporting us on Patreon.com/TheEmmaDaphneShow. If you need art supplies, The Paint Spot has put together an acrylic paint set for us with everything you need. You can find it on their website by searching The Emma & Daphne Show.
What has the response been so far?
People have been so supportive about both these new undertakings. I have been getting so many messages of thanks, encouragement, appreciation and pictures of the art work people are creating at home. With both these projects, the biggest idea was continuing to connect with my creative community. Despite all this physical distancing, we really are still connecting. It’s such a wonderful thing.
What do you love about Edmonton’s arts and crafts community?
Edmonton has so much talent and has a really thriving and diverse art community. One of the things I love best about it is how supportive and collaborative our creatives are. It’s really encouraging and empowering to see people lifting each other up.