You might say it was a uniquely Manitoba moment that brought together Jake Goertzen and a non-profit association helping artists.
The sculptor from Horndean, Man., was hauling a nine-foot, 2,000-lb. metal bison on a flatdeck down Winnipeg’s Pembina Highway, when the marketing manager for Uniquely Manitoba caught up with him.
Since 2004, the organization has helped Manitoba artists and crafters develop, promote and sell their work.
Program manager Darlene Dolinski asked him that day if he was interested in becoming a member. He was.
“They’ve been really helpful to me,” said Goertzen, who creates both representational and abstract artworks, as well as ornamental metal work. Since joining Uniquely Manitoba, his work has been featured on the front pages of its annual magazine, and in its online e-book catalogue or virtual gift show, alongside many other Manitobans’ works of art and fine handcrafted items.
He’s not selling a 2,000-lb. bison replica every day, of course. But being part of this program definitely helps build connection to a wider market, said Goertzen, who lives and works in an old school converted to his home and art studio in the southern Manitoba village.
Distance to market isn’t the only challenge faced by rural, northern and small-town artists, says Marilyn Gault, president of Uniquely Manitoba.
Distance and more
The association is a revamped version of a program she worked with while a business consultant with the Small Business Development Branch of the provincial government. Gault says she saw an enduring need to help Manitoba’s cultural entrepreneurs become better at the business of selling art, so carried it on after retirement.
There are a lot of creative people in Manitoba making very beautiful things, but they don’t necessarily know how to promote and sell what they do, said Gault.
“Artists are great at their art, and love what they do, but they’re not necessarily business people,” she said.
A membership in Uniquely Manitoba offers these artists not only exposure through their e-catalogue and annual magazine, but access to business seminars geared to their unique needs. The program also will review an artist’s pieces for workmanship, salability, packaging, labelling and export potential. They help artists put a price on their work.
“We’ve developed programs for artists to take a look at what it was costing them, and how they could go about selling more if they wanted to,” said Gault.
“What we’ve done is teach artists how to put a reasonable price on their work, and to package it in a way that enhances the value of it.”
It costs $100 to be part of Uniquely Manitoba, which buys a listing in the online e-book, as well as the association’s annual catalogue distributed to corporations, embassies and other art buyers. They are constantly promoting artists’ work and linking them up to regional, provincial, and international trade shows, said Dolinski.
“Uniquely wants to be the hub of connecting and directing people to the artists, or connecting them to the galleries where artists are, or to gift stores,” she said.
None of this comes with a promise the phone will start ringing off the hook, said Gault. But it’s pretty much guaranteed not to if you don’t promote your work as an artist, she said.
“You can’t just weave baskets in your kitchen and think people will beat a path to your door,” she said. “We provide venues for them to display and sell, so they can get recognized and get their name out there.”
It is important to network and make connection this way, because art is a tough sell in Manitoba, said Goertzen.
“Almost all the artists I know have a working spouse or some situation where they’re freed up so they can do art. Very few of them make a significant income from art,” he said.
But there are plenty making many beautiful things. A quick scan of Uniquely Manitoba’s catalogue features fine art and photography, and many specialized items from handmade shawls and linens and jewelry and Aboriginal beadwork to keepsake art quilts. In 2014, several speciality food items have also been included.
All these items are just a mouse click away on their website, and that’s something Manitobans might want to start thinking about as the gift-giving season begins, Dolinski said.
“It’s absolutely a great place to look for gifts,” she said. “These are all Manitoba made and handmade for personalized giving. And aren’t we all trying to find that gift that is unique?”
To see Uniquely Manitoba’s e-book or to get more information about the association, visit uniquelymanitoba.ca.