Art promotion and social innovation in the city

If you consider that buying artworks is a privilege of the rich and that you could never afford having a sculpture or aquarelle painting from a recognized artist in your living room, here is a story that will change your mind.

Artothèque is at the center of innovation, entrepreneurship and social development: it gives you the opportunity to have a Riopelle painting in your living room for a short period of time. We have met with Artothèque’s brand new director, Justin Maheu.

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From performing to diffusing the arts

IMG_6810Justin’s piercing blue eyes can tell a lot about his motivation and determination. Indeed, when he starts describing his current occupations you begin to understand where he is heading: in addition to managing Artothèque, he is also director and pianist at Quattr’Opéra, a group of musicians aiming at promoting opera towards the general public, he is treasurer and executive member at the Quebec society for research in music (SQRM). Although Justin started his career with a music background, he realized that what mattered the most to him was to diffuse and vulgarize the arts. He could not have found a better place to do it than Artothèque, a library allowing art rental for individuals, organizations and businesses for short or long periods.

You might think that it is another consequence of the “uberization” of society but it’s not: this social economy enterprise was founded in 1995 and it is a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship and arts. Run by the Fondation des arts et métier d’art du Québec, it gives access to over 5,000 works created by some 1,000 local artists.

A new strategy to revitalize the art industry

FullSizeRenderFor now, Artothèque’s priority is to increase art rental – as a hybrid enterprise, it does not benefit from any public subsidies. Justin is working on systematizing the programming at Artothèque with a balance of exhibitions, training activities for children, cultural mediation. The organization is also based on a transversal renting model: “we do not only rent the artworks to individuals, we also target corporate companies and we work with members of the film industry”. Justin believes in the importance of diversifying and updating the collection: tendencies and trends evolve all the time and Artothèque has 500 “sleeping” works of art that no longer correspond to the clients’ taste.

A social enterprise first

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Of course, the business model is based on the benefits resulting from the renting but Artothèque’s mission is much larger:

“We want to give a taste for art to the greatest number of people by making works easily accessible while increasing our artists’ visibility.”

The innovative aspect of this non-profit organization is that it still provides benefits to artists: when they leave their pieces on consignment, they obtain visibility through the virtual catalogue, receive rental income from their work (between 20 and 40% of the price of the rent) and create relationships with the business sector and new clients.

Artothèque tries to find a balance between making artworks easily accessible and offering a showcasing opportunity to promising artists. Of course, individuals who become clients are already “educated”. “Our audience is very similar to people going to the opera, in their forties, with a high annual salary but we want to reach a larger public”, explains Justin.

Indeed, there is an exhibition currently happening, “Quoi de neuf“, and you can visit them in Rosemont, 5720 rue Saint-André.

From artists to entrepreneurs in construction

How can we start describing Malina and Steven? They are a surprising blend of adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs and landowners. In the arts, just as in real life, they believe in interdisciplinary work.

At the beginning of this innovative enterprise, two artists who graduated from the prestigious Valand School of Fine Arts (University of Gothenburg) in Sweden and needed a stable base to work, after moving from one art residency to another throughout the world.

An interdisciplinary way of life

In 2012, after exposing and creating in Sweden, Ireland, Germany, the UK, Finland, Iceland, Malina Cailean and Steven Ladouceur decided to come back to Montreal – Steven’s birthplace and Malina’s city of adoption – to look for a storing place which would also serve as a working studio.

“We considered our buying options and decided to go for an entire building – two floors and four condos.”

IMG_2283The building, on Notre-Dame in the new popular area of Saint-Henri, was in need of major repairs, in fact it had to be entirely reconstructed starting with the wood support pole. When normal people would have considered the help of carpenters, electricians, architects, or bricklayers, Malina and Steven decided to do it themselves. These two autodidacts went through hundreds of books, learnt the composition of walls, fire resistance of components, and completed the Autocad Training in Montreal for Interior Design.

“We saw this reconstruction challenge like artists – we know we can do it all, we just need the proper tools”.

Multidimensional entrepreneurship: a do-it-yourself pulse

To finance this massive project, Steven & Malina received a Major Residential Renovation grant from the city of Montreal providing them with 60% of the total cost of renovation. To receive the grant, they had to work with an official General Contractor so Steven went through the whole training and got the official certificate to become his own general contractor.

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However, they still had to find the other 40% to renovate the building and both worked in diverse environments to earn money: Malina became a designer for a stationery shop while Steven worked as a projectionist or telemarketer.

Last year, as they were working on their endless renovation task, Malina looked on the other side of the road and noticed that a slot was for rent. Then again, following their surge for adventure and entrepreneurship, they decided to rent it, renovate it and launch a coffee shop – Café Tome –  with the perspective of selling coffee to pay the renovations. But wait, if they have to sell coffee… why wouldn’t they make it themselves?

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More challenge, more innovation, more originality. After working on an innovative concept of cold brewed coffee, Malina was awarded a grant to follow the Self-Employment program at SAJE Montreal, a management consulting organization whose mission is to stimulate, promote and support the expansion of small and medium-size businesses in Quebec. Soleil Mouvant will be a cold brewed coffee produced, bottled and distributed in different places, one of which will be her own coffee place.

“Cold brew has many advantages: we don’t use any preservatives, we do not need any costly equipment and it can be consumed within 7 days of preparation”

Today, Malina & Steven have many projects underway: they have to finish the renovation of the building by end of March while Malina resumes cost studies and seeking suppliers for Soleil Mouvant. But nothing is impossible for these promising entrepreneurs and it is with a sweet (Steven lives up to his name, Ladouceur) and untroubled perspective that they consider their future.

If you want to know more about the project, you can always contact Malina on her website and follow our Instagram feed as we post pictures of the building’s renovation.