Heather Haynes on using art as a catalyst for change with The Art of Courage

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Describe your business in a few words?

The Art of Courage is a non-profit that uses art as a catalyst to create change. 

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I have been a professional artist for the past 25 years, representing myself for the most part, as well as in collaboration with galleries.  When I started traveling to Africa in 2008, I began using my trip-based art as a tool to educate, inspire and raise funds to help people in critical situations.  As this became a larger part of my art business and my personal journey, a more formal structure was needed, and this led to the formalization of the non profit, The Art of Courage, in 2018.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I studied Fine Art at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. After I finished university, I started my own business making hats. I did this for a couple of years and then I went back to my real passion at the time, painting. I started my painting career and a couple years later, my husband and I decided to start a family. We have been parents for 24 years and business partners for almost 26 years now.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I think to be an artist is to be an entrepreneur… I don’t really think there is a choice in the matter; for me there wasn’t anyway. I have always known I was drawn to art and as I grew older it became evident to me that, in fact, I was an artist. It is who I am. I just needed to live that life. It didn’t scare me, or feel overwhelming to work for myself. I know I wanted to create my life the way it was meant to play out.  

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

My art business was all about collectors and networking, so when I began fundraising for the non profit, I looked first to this same group of people. I was engaging them through the artwork and providing the backstory to support the artwork. My approach was to provide an experience that opened their hearts and allowed them to directly influence the projects that the artwork was highlighting and supporting.  

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

The most challenging part for me was the realization that my vision was actually being steered by others’ ideas. This didn’t lead to any success and this is how I realized I was heading off course. At a certain point I had to get very real with myself and allow my heart to guide me. I knew this to be the most successful route to take. Then, as my vision became very clear, those who were there to help offered the support I needed to move forward in a successful way. This was a wonderful lesson and it solidified for me that I had the right people in my corner.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I created an 80 painting installation entitled “Wall of Courage”. It spans 40 ft long and 12 ft high. Each individual painting is of an orphan that I raise funds to support, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project was pure passion and with selfless purpose. I gave myself over to the process and what emerged was an instrument that engaged countless people and inspired them to be part of the project to help these very children. Using my artwork to create positive change for these children and the community they now live in. I have toured Wall of Courage to several cities across North America. My mission is to provide a platform whereby those who lack the ability to voice their own challenge and hardship, can be seen and heard.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

My art business has really struggled with sales during the pandemic. I had just immersed myself fully into my largest and most powerful body of work… one that I need to show in large cities to find my collectors. Travel and art shows have been practically impossible for the past year, so it is no wonder sales have stalled. However, with respect to the non-profit, our team became very refocused on where the most solid support lies, and that is to strengthen and grow our child sponsorship program. Once we focused on this initiative, we gained 40 new sponsorships over the past 6 months. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

My artwork has begun to focus on the empowerment of young girls, specifically Congolese girls. These girls face such a high risk of sexual violence, and gender inequality. I am emphasizing equality for young girls through their depiction as superheroes and strong, empowered young women. This is how I want the world to see them. I believe if true equality could be reached on a global scale, that the majority of the world’s problems could be solved. 

By use of this narrative and with me striving to make the best work of my life, along with finding new platforms to share this message, I will be confident to engage with larger groups of people to petition their support for these very girls, to help grow our projects in the Congo, as well as educate the world.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

The biggest lesson I learned in 2020 is that we need time to jump off the treadmill of life now and again in order to realign with our purpose and get very clear on our intent; to seek our soul’s mission and learn how to support oneself and find the power to fulfill such work. I also have learned to sit in the uncomfortable for longer periods of time… and realize I can survive.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I wish I had had some business training in the areas of accounting, networking and marketing. Over the course of my career, I had to learn this all on the fly as I went along. I also should have done a better job at documenting my work and my clients over the years. 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

We have two sons in university, and they both came home for 5 months at the outset of the pandemic. This was a wonderful time for our small unit to connect on a different level, as 4 adults. This grounded me. We also bought and sold a house… so that kept us occupied when work was shut down or moving along at a snail’s pace.  It really helped to keep our minds busy on something that was moving forward.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Oh boy, this is a tough one for me!  Because I love my work so much it is what I seek out when I am stressed. I love to travel and I think that historically, this is how I found a way to find the balance of work and life. So, this has been another big challenge over the past year of being basically locked down in one place. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I actually was able to travel to Los Angeles in October 2020, in a time when the world seemed to open up for a month.  My Wall of Courage was part of a group show entitled “Emergency On Planet Earth, In A Time Close To Now” at the United Talent Agency Artist Space. This was a dream opportunity for me, my work and the non profit. A real dream come true… smacked down in the midst of a global pandemic in the middle of Beverly Hills. 

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

Coffee, coffee and coffee! Just kidding. For me, each day I need to spend some quiet time in my studio to contemplate the work. I also will inevitably check in with my compatriots in DR Congo and re engage with the passion and my “Why” for doing this work. I also make sure I get out for a walk every day to clear my mind to make space for new ideas or for solutions to appear.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

A female Entrepreneur who is empowered by her inner knowing, her outer world connection and her passion to push through boundaries and glass ceilings, hand in hand with other women. 

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