Today I am SO very excited to share my second Art Educator Interview with you. (My first interview was last November with Samara from Purple Twig – I had every intention of a bi-monthly series, but apparently this was biting off more than I could chew! I will now make up for lost time.)
Let me introduce you to Erin Boniferro from Collage Collage in Vancouver! I fell in love with Erin’s store about four years ago when I first started my blog and did a google search for children’s art studios that also sold retail items. There aren’t many stores like this in the world, in fact Erin’s was the only one I came across at that time. My dream has always been so similar to Erin’s. I have always, always wanted an art studio + shop! I love the story of how she just went for her dream, and I so admire how she keeps up this amazing space while also raising babies and renovating her home. I still go on her website, like all the time, and just drool over the shelves of books and art supplies in her store. I want to move right in and set up a bed and just live there. Yes, that sounds rather stalker-ish, but… ok, I will admit that indeed I am slightly obsessed with Collage Collage. Even the name is the best!!
So without further ado, here is my interview with the beautiful, original, and brave Erin…
Bar: Tell me about your family and where you live.
Erin: I’m from Toronto originally, where I was born and raised. Moved out west when I was 19 to go to Emily Carr University. Emily Carr led me to my first job, and introduced me to my husband – we’ve got 2 kids now, a 3 year old boy and a baby girl who just turned one. We live in Vancouver.
Bar: What type of art do you do with your 3-year old, and have you introduced art materials to your baby daughter yet?
Erin: My 3-year old will do just about anything I try with him, but he especially loves our Reggio Classes in the shop. Drawing or colouring together is a nice thing, but opened-ended invitations are his most favorite. He’s totally spoiled as far as supplies go, and does treat the shop like a massive art supply cupboard, but I do indulge him wherever I can. Our one year old has tried out washable markers and will sticker up a space like nobody’s business. She had a short go with some wax block crayons before they all went into her mouth, but we’ll try again later this month.
Bar: Tell me about the types of art classes and workshops you offer at Collage Collage, and which would you say is the most popular?
Erin: We offer all kinds of classes at the studio, all taught by myself or other local artists. And by artists I mean the real deal! My staff all hold their BA’s or MFA’s in Fine Arts. They’re all practising in their field, and the classes reflect that. Programming is contemporary, clever, and very much focused on process over product. Artist led learning is something I’m really proud of around here.
We offer “Drop In” which s daily at 10am for 2-4yr olds with their parents, then a growing roster of after school classes for 3yrs and up. Adult classes are at least once a month, and seasonally we offer special workshops (like “Family Ornament Nights” that start this week, where families come in and make a set of 10 handmade ornaments together). We also contract a Reggio Trained ECE instructor for our weekly Reggio classes, and a Montessori trained ECE professional for our Music Classes.
Drop In is probably the most popular because it’s our longest running class, but each semester there’s a shift depending on age groups and the season. We also change up our offerings so that families can return again and again.
Bar: When and how did you open your art studio?
Erin: I opened my shop, Collage Collage, in September of 2009. After years of teaching and working for arts programs across Vancouver I was finally ready to go out on my own. I rented a space in a neighbourhood not far from my home at the time, and got to work fixing it up and making it bright and light for families. I used all my savings, every single favor anyone would offer me, free seminars from Small Business BC, and a small loan from Canadian Youth Business Association (that they let me have at 34yrs old!). I worked there on my own for the first 18months, 6 days a week!
Bar: This story is amazing! I love that you were gutsy enough to ask for a loan. And wow, working for a year and a half by yourself. How was that? How many kids did you teach at once? And did you always have a retail aspect from day one? I love your retail shelves, so many goodies up on display. If I lived near you, I would be a total stalker.
Erin: It’s actually really great to answer these questions because it’s good to look back at those days; lots has changed in the 7 years, and it’s been a challenging year this past year with the move to a new location and adding our daughter to our family.
The first year was bonkers. I was at the shop 12-14 hours a day – and I LOVED IT. I really did, and because it was just me running the show, I kinda had to be there to do everything. It was a retail space and studio from the get go. That was the concept I opened with, retail with classes happening at the table in the middle of the space. I taught 8-10 kids at a time with 2-3yr olds attending with their parents and 3-12 year olds getting dropped off for “afterschool classes”. At times it would be just me teaching and the retail space was open. The first location was in a less busy location, so it mostly worked, but there were certainly days where it was a bit more hectic.
Bar: You moved to a new location this year, how did you get the word out about your new space?
Erin: I got the word out through all the places I’d taught in the past, and had a nice community of families follow me to my new space. After that I connected with the families around the store, local schools + community centres. I’m terrible at marketing, and it’s actually one of the biggest things I have to work on to ensure this new space does well. The store would be a lot to run on it’s own without the workshops, even if we only taught the daily Drop In Classes in the morning. I’m constantly re-visiting what’s working and what isn’t, restocking our books and supplies, and looking for ways to make this business model work better. Running the space itself means I can’t always look further from it’s 4 walls, so I’m hoping that with some new strategies I’ll have the time I need to devote to our blog/social media/marketing.
The community really does love the space, but it’s not without its challenges to run it as a profit producing company. And, of course, the fact that I have two little kids that need me a lot at this stage in their lives is another layer to the wonderfully complex role that is small business owner and parent.
Bar: I love your honesty. Running a business and having a family with small children at home is quite possibly the hardest two things to juggle. I hear and can see the passion you have for your work. The fact that you are enriching so many children’s lives must be the fuel that keeps you going. I hope the parents in your community thank you endlessly! One last question: where do you see Collage Collage in five years?
Erin: Growing, flourishing, hopefully with additional locations and a flushed out blog and product line. We’re also working hard on getting into schools again through a community outreach program. I’d be so happy to see us celebrating 10 years in business with the kinks worked out, fixing up the glitches, and being able to say YES to all the enriching things we’d like to add to our little shop.
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Thank you so much, Erin, for taking the time to talk with me. I know that many of my readers are equally fascinated with your store concept (it’s not just me!). Although my kids are much older and I have way less energy than you, I still believe that someday my dream will come true and I will have a place here in Connecticut just like yours. Until then, I will continue to be inspired by your grit and perseverance, and your eye for beauty.
I’m sure Erin would love to hear from you, so leave any comments or questions below!