By Matt Beauchamp. Originally published in the summer 2019 issue of Business Class magazine.

For Brianna Dick, an accomplished painter from the Songhees First Nation, art has always been a passion. Now, thanks in part to training she completed last November with the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (ACE) program, she is also building it into her career.

ACE, a collaboration between TRICORP, the Gustavson School of Business and Indigenous community and government, has been invited into more than 38 Indigenous communities since it was founded in 2013, offering business training and mentorship to more than 309 aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs. With federal government support through Western Economic Diversifi­cation Canada, philanthropic support from Tim Price and a $1 million gift from BMO Financial Group in 2018, the program was empowered to expand to an artist-focused cohort.

“Over the history of the ACE program, it became clear that Indigenous artists seek specific skills to create a special kind of business model to commercialize their art practices in the ways they deem most appropriate. We are grateful to our advisory board of successful Indigenous artists who have been instrumental in shaping the curriculum and delivery strategy,” says Dr. Brent Mainprize, Gustavson teaching professor and co-director of the ACE for Artists program.

“I think that the idea of a business course to an artist can be a little bit daunting,” says Program Manager Rosy Hartman. “Through the program, however, artists can gain the skills they need to really launch their careers and move from art as a passion or maybe a hobby to a career.”

“I think what I enjoyed the most about the ACE for Artists program is that it kind of gave me the inside scoop of business in our modern world,” says Dick, who was part of the first ACE for Artists cohort. “As Indigenous people we’ve always had that sense of business in terms of trading our items, negotiating deals on land and more, but when it comes to making a contract, knowing the legalities around copyrighting my art or what resources are out there for me as an Indigenous artist — and an artist in general — the program was helpful.”

In order for the ACE for Artists program to excel, there needed to be a high level of collaboration between the business school and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

“The partnership with Fine Arts has been so critical and important to the success of ACE for Artists,” says Mainprize. “There is a lot of excellent art-specifi­c expertise that the Faculty of Fine Arts brought to the table that we really hadn’t had experience with.”

For Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, the partnership made a lot of sense in terms of the direction in which the faculty wants to move.

“Looking at where we’re moving as a faculty and in terms of UVic’s commitment to Indigenous students, it really seemed like an absolutely perfect ­fit,” says Lewis. “Here in our faculty we’re putting more emphasis on how we can prepare students for careers in the arts through programs that are innovative and community based, with lots of opportunities for experiential learning. As I looked at the ACE program, I saw that a lot of that is in place within that program and extending it to artists exclusively made sense.”

For Dick, the future is looking bright for her business and art career.

“I made a logo for an Indigenous youth conference called ‘Gathering Our Voices’ specifically for the Youth in Care dinner portion of the conference,” said Dick. “I also created a logo for The Unceded Youth Conference in Vancouver that the VACFSS youth advisory committee is putting on for any VACFSS youth in care. I’ve kept myself fairly busy and put myself out there taking on quite a few different logo/illustration jobs since finishing the program. Along with building my own little business of selling Indigenous art cards that tell stories pertaining to themes of reconciliation, traditional Indigenous knowledge and plant medicine knowledge.”

Photo: UVic Photo Services