‘Artrepreneurship’ on Training Wheels

Andrew Finton, of the Sundog Retreat Carving Program, likes to point to Calvin Morberg as one of his successful young carvers.

Today he has a long way to point. Morberg’s off on a cultural delegation to Siberia.

Four and a half years ago, Morberg sold his hand-caved masks out of towel-lined shoeboxes on Main Street. Finton lured him into the first year of his carving program for youth.

Morberg completed the beginner’s training as well as the three-year advanced program. Now he supplements his art sales by teaching in the program. Many art entrepreneurs teach their art to create steady income to ballast the less predictable art sale stream.

Morberg’s sole proprietorship is doing well. He’s paid off his vehicle and almost finished paying off his first family home.

Next year, he plans to train his replacement. Over the next 11 months he will groom another advanced carver to be the next teacher.

“We hate to lose him as an instructor. But he wants to focus exclusively on his artwork.” Finton thinks this is the best thing Morberg can do for his art career at this point.

He’s ready to roll off on his own.

Sundog carvers spend about half their time learning to carve. The other half they work on business plans and preparing their portfolios, gaining tools as entrepreneurs.

A slender stipend helps them devote their full time to the course. They could be making much more money at a job, but this money greases their training wheels. They carve and sell their carvings during the training program. They make predictions of how much work they will create and sell and track it against what actually happens.

Justien Wood is a female First Nations carver in her last two days of the beginner’s program. Every morning she’s banging on Finton’s door to find out if she’s been accepted to the advanced program. Only two spots are currently available and nine young carvers want in.

The 22-year-old had jobs as waitress and cashier but had never carved before entering the Sundog program.

“I love it. I don’t want to stop. I hope I’m carving for the rest of my life.”

She anticipates entrepreneurship’s difficulties because “there’s no one to motivate you. You have to motivate yourself.” But, “I’d be doing what I love, that’s the most important thing.”

Living with her Mom during the program helps her get by on the small stipend. She knows she could be making more money elsewhere. But she wants into the advanced carving program. She wants to go deep into the art and craft of carving.

And she’s excited by opportunities to travel in that program. There’s an October trip planned to New Zealand for a cultural exchange with the Maori, for example.

Twenty-year-old Brian James Francis has finished his second year of the advanced carving program.

He worked at Canadian Tire and Superstore when he moved here five years ago from Fort MacPherson, but nothing was as exciting as carving at the Youth Achievement Centre with Calvin Morberg.

He completed the beginner’s training and decided to go onto the advanced.

In five years, Francis hopes to have his artwork in galleries. He would like to donate a piece to his home town of Fort MacPherson. He’d also like to help out youth: “There’s too much drugs and alcohol in the world today.”

One of the advantages of being a self-employed carver will be meeting other carvers and getting their opinions and input on improving his work.

“I got to meet the Governor General and so many interesting people – carvers I never knew about, including this Hopi artist from down south.”

Fellow carver William Callaghan agrees. He recalls on his recent trip to Ottawa’s Winterlude with the premier. “You just don’t get those opportunities as a mechanic.”

One of Callaghan’s pieces was purchased as a gift for the Governor General when she was in the territory. He’s 25 years old and in the second year of the advanced program.

Callaghan values “experiencing another part of my culture through carving.” He’s of Tlingit ancestry and has been a native dancer for 10 years.

“Right now it’s not really being your own boss,” observes Callaghan. “You’ve got Andrew there. But you will be your own boss eventually.”

Before enrolling in this program, “personally, I was kind of lost,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do. Calvin (his cousin) kept trying to get me into the course. And I totally clicked with it.”

“I love it. It’s my passion. I’m starting to feel like this is me, this is who I am. I think I’ll carve for the rest of my life, till the arthritis is so bad I can’t.”

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