Like any entrepreneur, social enterprises should be ready to screw up

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Written By Studio C

Ever enjoy a Hershey’s Kiss, Oh Henry, or a Jolly Rancher?

You may know that they’re all Hershey products. You probably don’t know that Milton Hershey had three candy businesses fail before becoming successful in the chocolate business. When he did amass a fortune, he gave it away to orphaned children and his workers, in perhaps the very first precursor of a social enterprise.

At Studio C, like many not-for-profits, we’re exploring social enterprise. One advantage we have as creative people is that we’re prepared to stumble in the pursuit of an original concept, fresh thinking, and ground-breaking ideas. And we fully expect to be thrown a curve – a learning curve.

Studio C is an art centre connecting diverse communities. Our award-winning centre conducts collaborative projects, art classes, and public exhibitions. Studio C is part of Prospect Human Services. Prospect helps people who face barriers to employment. Unfortunately, that’s a large population. It includes everyone from people with disabilities to recent immigrants to military personnel looking to transition to civilian workplaces. Working with job seekers is only half the equation, however. Educating employers is the other vital component.

In 2005, Prospect saw art as an interesting way to break barriers between disadvantaged groups and the workplace. We found that some people learn better in the art room vs. the class room. Studio C was designed for anyone wanting to explore their creative potential in an environment fostering self-expression and collaboration; a place where artists could sell their work and find employment opportunities facilitating art classes.

The initiative started by building the art community’s capacity to include artists with disabilities, and has since expanded to include many other groups (including mental health, multi-cultural, youth, and older adults).

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For Studio C, social enterprise is a significant mind shift. Suddenly you’re contemplating charging for something that provides a community service. It’s a different way of thinking about our work.

We believe that you can’t expect not-for-profits to be successful entrepreneurs right out of the gate. Social enterprises, like entrepreneurs, need to feel that they have the freedom to fail. Even if you enlist help from people who know how to run a business (and you definitely should) that doesn’t guarantee success. It just means that certain fundamentals will be in place.

Studio C is a community builder, fostering human growth through the arts. So how does a revenue motive fit in? Our goal is to achieve social, cultural, and community outcomes. We are translating some of what we do into new revenue streams. Of course, you have to watch that something doesn’t get lost in translation. But our goal is to achieve financial sustainability to support our work.

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Where are we starting? We know there are skills everyone needs to be successful at work, including time management, communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, goal-setting, and planning. All of these can be developed and practiced through the discipline of art.

Historically, Studio C has grown through a combination of funded contracts, art-based grants, and entrepreneurial ventures. We’re exploring sustainability through our work with the business community, corporate team-building workshops, sponsorships, fee-for-service, sales of art and merchandise, and fundraising events.

As a social enterprise, Studio C meets several fundamentals that bode well for the future. We fill a niche that the market does not meet, we promote innovation, and we stimulate job creation while supporting an inclusive economy that provides employment and training opportunities for marginalized individuals as well as local businesses.

We’re not selling anything sweet. But Milton Hershey would approve of our mission.

To learn more about Studio C, visit www.studiocprospect.ca or visit Studio C (lower level, Art Central #9 100 7 Ave SW).

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Since 2005, Studio C has:

  • coordinated over 50 community art collaborations with individual artists, organizations, schools, and businesses
  • facilitated Creative Team Building Workshops for a number of companies such as Enbridge, Minuk Law, Imperial Oil, Primerica, Big Rock Brewery, and EllisDon
  • developed employment skills in persons with disabilities and given them confidence in themselves and their employability through the medium of art
  • helped 88% of participants completing our ArtRecruits program achieve employment/education goals
  • exposed thousands of Calgarians – through our exhibits and installations – to the artistry of people from marginalized groups
  • hosted over 100 public exhibitions including solo and group shows
  • enlightened employers to the potential of persons with disabilities in the workforce thereby helping to create a more diverse Calgary workforce
  • supported over 1000 aspiring and practicing artists of all abilities and backgrounds
  • sold over 500 paintings and works of art, generating income for Studio C and its artists (70% of earnings go directly to artists).

 

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