Nations Creations is making a name for itself as a social entreprise that puts the artist first.
The Nations Creations team hosted provincial reps on a tour of the Chilliwack site on Thursday, who came with a funding announcement of $606,000 from the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction through its Community and Employer partnerships.
“It was great to see and meet so many of last year’s participants, now employed in the field,” said Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction, after touring the portables and an artist open house in the Stó:lō Interpretive Centre.
What sets Nations Creations apart is the specialized training received by program trainees, coupled with a royalty plan to pay contracted Indigenous artists for their original designs, with ongoing payments into perpetuity.
They have 18 signed artists and 80 designs to work with.
“I think you are really leading with putting the artist in the centre of the work,” Elmore said.
The parliamentary secretary called the program “a great example” of what a royalty system that benefits artists should look like.
“Congratulations for that innovation,” she said.
“It’s opportunities like this that really work to lift people up,” Elmore said.
It’s never been done this way.
The trainees, who are either on EI or having been on EI in the past three years, learn how to run high-tech equipment and computers from portables on the Coqualeetza site of Sto:lo Nation.
They receive training on state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and the wares are later sold in the Sto:lo Gift Shop and online. They learn how to operate a laser etcher, a heat press, a white printer, or an embroidery machine as examples.
The artwork comes from Indigenous artists, from the Lower Mainland and beyond. Their designs are stitched onto t-shirts, hoodies, bags or hats, and etched onto wine glasses or mugs or wood coasters.
One of those artists is Jason Roberts, of Tzeachten First Nation, who called Nations Creations “a perfect fit” for him. He’s head of production, preparing designs on computer so they are ready to go onto more than 40 different giftware and souvenir products.
Roberts earned light manufacturing certificates through the program as a training participant, but as an artist was a little skeptical initially before signing on with Nations Creations.
“I wasn’t going to hand over my designs at first,” he said, adding that he was tired of seeing artists get ripped off. But he became convinced it was a good deal for artists as he learned more, and signed himself after watching some of his friends do the same.
In the past an artist would be issued a one-time fee for an image, say of a bear, or an eagle, that gets reproduced countless times by a large manufacturer, with no financial followup to the artist. They maybe got $200 to $400 in a one-time payment.
This is where it gets ground-breaking. Part of this new concept involves “social innovation” by supporting the artists in a sustainable way. Every time a replica of a design is sold by Nations Creations, the artist will earn a portion of that revenue off the wholesale price.
It could be argued it’s changing the landscape entirely for aborginal artists.
Bonny Graham, one of the Nations Creations artists, who was also involved at the outset in coming up with the idea of paying royalties to artists.
“With the hard work of Darren and Nordina, it has gone far beyond what I had expected,” Graham said.