This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Krista Dalby, the co-founder of Small Pond Arts, an artist residency centre based in Prince Edward County.
1. Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Located in Southern Ontario’s beautiful Prince Edward County, Small Pond Arts is an artist residency centre; that is, a rural retreat for artists of all disciplines to get away and create new work. We provide artists with studio space, cozy rooms, and home-cooked meals, allowing them to focus their energy on stoking their creative fires. We have an on-site art gallery showcasing the paintings of my husband, Milé Murtanovski. He’s been painting for more than 25 years, and it’s a good thing we’ve got a space now because his artistic output has exploded since we moved here. We’re also an arts venue, and since we opened in 2010 we’ve hosted dozens of events such as concerts, film screenings, shadow puppetry plays, and festivals. We’ve twice hosted Cornography, an arts festival on the theme of food, and our annual Scarecrow Festival is always a big hit with families on Thanksgiving weekend. We have an event every September called Stickfest, where we set up our barn as a rather seriously curated Stick Museum, and we host a day of stick-related activities, all for the low, low cost of one stick.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
What appealed to us most about striking out on our own was that we wanted to become masters of our own destiny. We were living in Toronto and competing for opportunities with every other brilliant creative in the city, and our apartment was too small for Milé to paint in, much less store his work or show prospective clients. While on a road trip out west we started fantasizing that there was another way; we could move somewhere smaller and more affordable and go someplace where our talent could stand out. It was a bit of a process to choose Prince Edward County as our new home; the natural rural beauty was certainly appealing, but what really drew us here was that, although there was already a solid artistic community, no one was offering the unique blend of creativity that Milé and I offer.
I was also greatly inspired by visits to two other art farms: a brief residency at Caravan Farm Theatre in B.C., and a five-week internship at the legendary Bread & Puppet Theater in Vermont. Although we are not like either of those places, I learned a lot from seeing how these two companies have succeeded to make art and build community in rural settings.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
We really get to know our artists in residence, mostly because one of our only rules is that we eat lunch and dinner together. Over countless shared meals there is one thing that has become abundantly clear: our resident artists are far from typical. We host artists from all over the world, from as far away as India and Australia. We’ve hosted painters, writers, musicians, filmmakers, puppeteers, as well as artists who defy definition. We’ve hosted art students and senior artists and every age in between. The one thing they all have in common is that they take their work seriously and they see the value in carving out dedicated time to create new work. When a new artist arrives I am always excited to see them unload blank canvases from the car, or hear about their goals of how many pages they want to write per day.
Most of our resident artists find us online – we belong to several websites listing artist residency opportunities: wooloo.org, ResArtis.org and TransArtists.org. We’re also quite active on social media: Facebook, Twitter and our blog, smallpondarts.blogspot.ca
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
Milé and I both wear a lot of hats: artistic directors, administrators, chefs, maintenance crew, gardeners, chauffeurs, and on and on. We try to take good care of our artists. We offer encouragement and feedback on their work if that’s what they are looking for. And we also take them on outings so they get to experience the beauty of the Prince Edward County and all of the cool things there are to see and do (and eat! and drink!) here. Because we are both working artists, me in puppetry and community arts and Milé in the visual arts, we lead by an example that tells guest artists that this is a place where shit gets done.
It’s a bit unusual to think of the arts as a business, but that’s what we did from the very beginning of Small Pond; we wrote a 40-page business plan that ensured that the two of us were on the same page, and shared the same vision.
We don’t have any employees, but we do ask our residents to pitch in with some chores here and there. It helps us out in the practical sense, of course, but it also makes it less like a hotel and more like a home.
5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
I know that a lot of people would love to do what we are doing. We’re living the dream: we get to do what we love while living in paradise. The key to our success is simple: hard work and determination. All the time and effort we’ve invested into making Small Pond a special place pays off when we see how it inspires our community and the artists who have stayed with us.
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