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N.B. Arts Accelerator Teaches Artists Business Chops

Saint John-based artist Sarah Jones is facilitating the ArtsLink Catapult accelerator. Image: Lise Hansen/Huddle Today

It’s hard to make a living as an artist anywhere in Canada, but it’s particularly hard in New Brunswick. An accelerator program is aiming to help artists turn their passion into their business.

Catapult, put on by ArtsLink NB, is a program for ambitious artists and creative entrepreneurs who are ready to bring their work to market. The program aims to improve entrepreneurial skills and business networks for participants. The artists will take part in business skills boot camps, one-on-one coaching and mentorship from people at the top of their industry. The program will have a specific focus on exporting and local sales opportunities. The fall session is eight weeks long in Fredericton starting September 8. A winter session hosted in Saint John will follow.

The program is being coordinated by Saint John-based artist Sarah Jones, who besides running a successful business with her art, has also spent time working in entrepreneurial programming at Enterprise Saint John. She also took part in the program when it first launched in 2015.

This is different from some other business accelerator programs, there are lots of those. But this is the only one in Canada, maybe North America, that specifically for artists,” says Jones.

“We’re trying to have this balance between commercial viability and commercial success, but then also creative integrity as well. There are limits and guidelines and structures that artists seem to exist within and not everything is commercial. But how do we set framework and boundaries around our art practice that allows us to make money in a way that feels like we have creative control and integrity?”

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The program will cover topics such as business modelling, business planning, grant/funding application writing, career planning, time management, marketing and social media. Jones says this year’s program will also have a focus on exporting, with help from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

I think we tend to be quite insular, New Brunswick artists especially. We tend not to exhibit outside of the Maritimes and there is no reason for us not to,” says Jones. “We’re doing good work, so let’s push it out. There are all kinds of online sales platforms now that would allow us to sell internationally. There are no barriers for us doing that.”

Yet New Brunswick artists are well below the national levels when it comes to income. According to Hill Strategies Research Inc’s analysis of Statistics Canada’s 2011 household survey, the average income for New Brunswick artists is $25,700, that was significantly below the national median income for artists of $32,800.

“I don’t think we realize how much of a role the arts have to play and just the arts in making New Brunswick a worthwhile place to live … You need those things in order for a place to be alive,” says Jones. “That said, artists’ careers need to be sustainable and supported. Statistically, they are not right now in the province.”

Jones says a big part of this is because artists are not aware or are not applying for different programs available to them, nor do many have the business skills to take their practice to the level it needs to be to sustain itself. The Catapult arts accelerator wants to address those needs.

“We’re not applying for Canada Council grants and we’re not receiving our share because we’re not applying,” says Jones. “We’re not viewing ourselves as entrepreneurial and we’re not being as aggressive entrepreneurially as we should be. I think we’re just missing some skills, so that’s what ArtsLink is really trying to address.”

The deadline to apply for the Catapult fall session is Aug 25.