Meet Citizen Grace. Citizen Grace is a Vancouver-based online retail shop started by Shannon Heth + Christina Heemskerk. Their style is so lovely. I met Shannon at her Midtown Experiment pop up shop + had to extend an interview invitation. Read on to find out their must have items for summer + their biggest bit of advice for new entrepreneurs!
1. Tell me about Citizen Grace. What is it + how did it get started?
Citizen Grace is an online Fashion Boutique featuring woman’s clothing and accessories – It all started over some wine and a conversation about what we wanted our life to be like and what our passions and dreams were and this is when Citizen Grace was born.
2. Can you speak about the connection between fashion, personal expression, and self love? How do you embody this philosophy in the Citizen Grace brand?
There is something amazing that happens when you get dressed in the morning, It sets the tone for your day – your attitude, your confidence, how the world looks at you. Fashion really can be the basis to start your day. If you put on a great cut power suit, you go into that meeting and you own it; You walk in with confidence and people feed off of it. If you feel saucy but want that effortless french chic vibe, put on a great boyfriend jean, a great simple t-shirt and a sexy heel with a statement necklace and the world wants to look and talk to you. It changes how you feel and the way you move within the world. It really is powerful, you can be who and what you want to be.
3. What’s the biggest challenge you have to owning your own business? How do you overcome it?
When they invent about 15 more hours is a day we will be golden! Time is one of the largest challenges we face. It takes time to make anything great. Also you have to learn to wear many hats…Coordinator, Art Director, Accountant, Account Manager the list goes on.
4. How would you each describe your personal style? What’s your favourite thing to wear right now?
Christina: I THINK that Im a simple chic kind of girl. I love a great jean, simple shirt, a blazer – and pop it with an interesting heel (like a color or a print) and top it with mosly basic bangles and simple necklaces. With that said… I have fed off of Shannon’s more edgy style and Im more and more drawn to more statement items like all over print and a more statement necklace.
Shannon: I love the edgy look mixed with simple. I look in my closet and I see A LOT of black, grey and white. This is when you can make it fun though and add a fun print bootie or an awesome heel. I like to try new things out though and mix it up a bit so right now I am loving the bright spring colors like our neon ‘The Only Way’ skirt and our ‘Spring Wave’ dress by Mink Pink.
5. What’s your favourite Citizen Grace piece right now?
Christina: I am majorly in love with our new resort Maxis. I’m pretty sure that Ill be pulling out my ‘Shannon- inspired’ hippy side all summer, bare feet and body jewelry.
Shannon: Oops, I already answered that question haha Other then the items I previously mentioned I am loving the look of the shirt dress. We have the Twisted Theory shirt dress that is gorgeous navy and white… it’s so simple and can be worn to the office or it can be toned down and worn in bare feet in your backyard.
6. What are your different roles in the business? Do you each wear different a hat?
Shannon runs the admin day to day stuff and manages our interns that work with us. Christina is the creative side of Citizen Grace; She does all of our graphic design and runs the show at all of our photoshoots. When it comes to buying we both do this together… it’s fun because we both have different styles and taste in pieces but that’s what makes us who we are because it’s a collective of different styles that makes our pieces so unique and different.
7. What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own business?
Find a great Business Partner… Its like a marriage (you will spend more time with them than your own partner) you need someone who compliments you, encourages you, but brings you down to earth when you have flown into the clouds with romantic and lofty ideas – but works with you to try to come up with a realistic way to make it happen. – A solid business plan is pretty important too, but the first it the utmost important… Dreams can bring you pretty far.
Online entrepreneurship can be a lonely place. For me, my home is my office + sometimes I transplant a mini bubble office at my favourite local cafes where I can observe + be observed. But, for the most part, I’m working solo with interspersed one-on-one consultations via Skype.
But here’s my secret. You can make friends online to ease that entrepreneurial silence. Here’s how.
Make Friends Online in 3 Easy Steps
1. Find them.
To make friends online, first you have to find + nominate the potentials. Here’s where to look. Check out your favourite Facebook groups, blogs, forums, social media lists, and other online hangouts. If someone seems interesting start following them, comment on their shit, and build a rapport. Does this seem intimidating or even creepy to you? Well, here’s what I have to say about that. Folks posting online are posting online willingly + often to get noticed. As entrepreneurs, bloggers, and, well narcissists ( most of us ), we like to feel important. More traffic, more comments, more engagement is like sweet crack in our blog ego pipe. (Wait, how do you smoke crack?) Anyway, you get the picture! Start buttering them up.
Now that you’ve nominated your new friends, it’s time to reach out + introduce yourself. Email is your best bet, I’d say. I mean you want to make friends online, right? Be polite, clear, and quick. Don’t tell them your life story, just tell them what they need to know to see that you’re a fan + want to connect. Be up front about what you want. No one likes a sneak-in sale so just tell ’em how it is, you want to make friends online. Remember, some entrepreneurs get hundreds of emails in a day, so don’t freak out if they don’t reply right away. After a few days send them another quick email to introduce yourself + your friendship request again.
3. Follow up.
Part of the trick to make friends online is following up after you’ve made the initial connection. Maybe you met over Skype or in Google Hangouts + the conversation was fun, light, and helpful. Tell them so. Also, it’s important to suggest a followup conversation, hangout, or event. Don’t assume they will take the initiative + don’t assume that if they don’t they’re not interested. People are busy, girl! If you want to make friends online you have to be bold + ask!
Meet Lee Fraser. He’s a dancer + actor and I met him through RSVP 33, a social networking event here in Vancouver. When Lee + I met for bevies at Turk’s on the Drive we had a nice discussion about the freedom of following your passion. Lee talked about how he enjoys challenging himself through jumping into new things, like an advanced dance class, but isn’t overly attached to the outcome or a certain type of success, which gives him freedom to enjoy the process.
Read on to find out his favourite places in Vancouver, how he got into dance in the first place, and his embarrassing beginner dance hands that became known as “The Claw.”
1. Tell me about how you got into dance.
I come from a very musical family. My dad is an amateur musician and an avid jazz and blues fan, and thus my mom is quite a music fan herself. My older sister was a talented jazz pianist and singer, and was briefly a professional jazz musician, and I payed a bit of guitar and bass. I was constantly exposed to really amazing music. Passionate, soulful music with engaging rhythms. In the mid nineties, when I was about 10, my history with jazz music transitioned me nicely into the golden era of Hip Hop music. I quickly fell in love with Biggy, 2Pac, A tribe Called Quest, Snoop, and a slew of other amazing artists.
When I was about 15 I went to a summer camp (currently known as “The YES”) that created a safe space for me to explore and try new things. The camp was focused on allowing youth to grow into confident, self aware leaders, and one of the things they did was challenge us to dance as though no one was watching. This is where I first started exploring my love of dance. I attended the camp for 2 summers, and then became a councillor with the camp for a handful of summers after that. During that time, my love of dance continued, and I started to get a few compliments on my dancing. As it turns out, my musical childhood had given me really good rhythm, which translated to decent dancing, even though I was, at that point, very awkward with my moves. Hearing that I was a good dancer (however true it was) was monumental for me. As most artists or creatives will tell you, early encouragement can be hugely beneficial to their growth, confidence, and commitment.
Coincidentally, this was also around the time that “So You Think You Can Dance” was very popular. Until that show, I didn’t really know organized dance was an option. It gave me a whole new perspective on the art form, and left me very inspired. Finally, at the age of 22, my need to take a dance class reached a boiling point, and I found a studio that looked like a good place to start. A friend, who had taken a couple dance classes before, came with me, and I took a Hip Hop Intro class at Harbour Dance Centre on Granville Street.
I walked out of that super easy intro class, and immediately bought a year long membership and a 10 class punch card. I started taking class a couple time a week, which quickly grew into 5-6 times a week, and within 6 months I was taking 10 classes/week. A year after starting I went to my first auditions ever, auditioning for 2 Hip Hop training and performing companies, getting into one right away, and getting into the other about 5 months later. I also was asked to joined my first dance crew. A few months later, I dropped out of University and committed to being a professional dancer, even though I wasn’t making any money off it at the time. I have been dancing and teaching full time ever since.
2. What type of dance do you do? Do you have any videos you can share?
I refer to myself as a commercial dancer. There is a lot of disagreement in the dance world as to what this style of dance should be called, but I just keep it simple. The reason we don’t necessarily call it Hip Hop is long and complicated, so I won’t even start. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that, as a commercial dancer, I dance to entertain others. Sometimes I dance to Hip Hop, sometimes I dance to Michael Jackson, or acoustic covers of rock songs, or whatever else. The choreography I do is intended to be both visually and emotionally pleasing. That is, the shapes, movements, textures, and formations should look good, but they should also make you feel something, and ideally that feeling matches the feeling of the song. The attached video is me dancing in a friends piece of choreography (the very talented and sought after local choreographer Carlo Atienza). I chose this clip because it highlights a lot of the themes I was just talking about. We are dancing to Hip Hop music, but as opposed to old school freestyle, which roots its movement in the feeling for the dancer, this choreography is designed to look good on camera, which inherently makes it more commercial.
3. Do you have a pre-performance psyche-up routine?
My energy gets really high on it’s own when my nerves kick in, so raising my energy isn’t really necessary. Thus, my routine is less of a psyche-up and more of an awareness exercise, intended to get me out of my head and keep me enjoying the moment, and there are two specific things I like to do to achieve that.
First, I like my audience to get to know me a bit before I perform. Whether it’s talking to people for a moment in the lobby, getting on stage and saying something on the mic, or freestyling a bit before a performance or audition starts. If I can do something like that, it serves to break down the audience-performer barrier and allows me to feel more natural and present. If nothing else, a little wink or something silly goes a long way for me.
Second, right before I start dancing, I like to try and look at something in the room/theatre, to remind me of exactly where I am and how lucky I am to be here. Even in class, if I remember to look at the words “Harbour Dance Centre” written on the back wall of the studio, I have an instantly better class. Ultimately, I am doing something that I love, that makes me happy, and that a lot of people are afraid to do, and if I can allow myself to enjoy that and enjoy each individual experience, then I’m doing something right.
4. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
Currently I am teaching dance a lot and performing here and there. I am also training acting pretty intensely and am really focusing on that world. I have a couple public performances/flash-mobs that I am trying to organize for the summer. These are still in the very early stages but are in the vein of “Improv Anywhere,” with the intent of brightening peoples day and exposing people to the city they live in and the people around them.
Over the next few months I will be teaching a lot at elementary and high schools. I love these contracts because they expose kids to dance in a way I wish I had been exposed to it in school as a kid. For everyone out there that remembers doing square dancing and line dancing in school, now in lieu of that, a lot of schools are bringing people like me in to teach Hip Hop dance, Commercial choreography, Jazz dance, and much more. It is an amazing opportunity for the students to experience something new.
I also taught a contract in India last year, and am looking into doing another contract this year for two or three months around October. I would love to get a chance to go back and share more with them, but this time around I want to really sink my teeth into learning Bollywood dance while I am there.
5. What advice would you give to an aspiring dancer/artist?
Two things. First, embrace your uniqueness. There is only one of you, even if you have a twin, even if you have a clone, there is only one of you, and that is amazing. The sooner you focus on yourself, on what you have to offer, on what you like, on how you move, the happier you will be and the more progress you will see in yourself. Trying to be like another dancer or artist will only get you to a fraction of where they are. Learning from others is great, but always apply it to becoming the best version of yourself.
Second, don’t take things personally. Being an artist, of any kind, comes with rejection. The jobs you don’t get will far outnumber the jobs you do get. If you take each rejection as a general statement about you as an artist or a person, you leave yourself vulnerable to getting jaded and resentful. For myself, when I don’t get a part, I hear “You’re not right for this part, right now.” I see it as very specific; this part, not all parts; right now, who knows where I’ll be later. This allows me to see the rejection as an opportunity to grow. Specificity keeps rejection professional and motivating. Generalization can make rejection personal and demoralizing.
6. Who are you favourite dancers + what do you like about them?
Locally, my favourite dancer is a friend of mine named Eric Malapad. I was lucky enough to have him as one of my first teachers, but even now as a professional, I still love taking his class and watching him dance. He is extremely strong and comfortable moving his own body in a variety of different styles, and he has a remarkable understanding of music and the way music makes us feel. When you put it together, he is able to show you interesting and entertaining movement that also matches the feeling in the music. He still teaches at Harbour Dance and I highly recommend his class for anyone that wants to try, but be warned, a couple of his classes are harder than what they are listed at. The best class to start with would be his Sunday Grooving class at 2:30 (No choreography, just learning different moves and learning how to put them to music).
Internationally I am a big fan of a dancer named Parris Goebel. She has so much life happening just in her face and in her eyes. I swear, you could film her standing still just looking into the camera lens and I would happily watch for a long time. Many dancers move so amazingly, but either have nothing going on in their face or they are making faces that have no true feeling behind it. They are lying and avoiding showing us anything real. When I watch Parris dance, I see a real person having a real experience, and it adds to the performance tenfold.
7. What do you love most about Vancouver? What are three of your favourite places that anyone could visit?
I am always really inspired by the diversity of Vancouver. I love that when I go to different neighbourhoods, each neighbourhood has its own different, distinct atmosphere. Kits feels different than Cambie, which feels different than Main street or Yaletown or Commercial Drive. Even though each one still feels very much like Vancouver, the people, the culture, the vibe in each neighbourhood feels unique to me.
Three of my favourite place are ::
The Stawamus Chief hike. I know it’s a little ways out of Vancouver, but I had to mention it because it is so amazing this time of year. Also I love the drive there and back. A couple friends, some good music or a podcast, and you have an amazing drive along the coast.
Robson Square ice rink. Most people know this as a spot to go skating in the winter, but the rest of the year it is a hub for Vancouver street dancers. Most weeknights, from about 8:00 pm onwards, the rink will have dozens of different street dancers using the rink or the surrounding area, practicing a wide variety of different styles. There are also many nights a week that have free or very cheap lessons in everything from salsa to bboying/bgirling to hip hop. There are also usually quite a few people there on weekends during the day. Anyone is welcome to come participate, or watch, or whatever. If you have never checked it out, it is worth grabbing some food and sitting and eating on the stairs leading down to the rink. If nothing else, it will make you happy watching people do what they love, and if you end up feeling brave, come down, say hi, and maybe learn a thing or two.
Crab Park on the edge of Gastown. This park has grown in popularity over the last couple years. I get a chance to hang out there pretty often as it is right next to my acting studio. What I love about this park in particular is the juxtaposition of scenery. From train tracks, to high rises, to industrial ports, there is an abundance of industrial scenery. On the other hand, the park itself is a beautiful green space, you are right on the ocean, and you have a beautiful view of North Van and the mountains. You really get a bit of everything, which I really love. Come alone with a book or bring some friends and a frisbee. Plus, you are right next to the Alibi Room and their amazing beer list, so why not grab a pint afterwards.
8. Are there any upcoming events, shows, conferences, festivals, etc. in Vancouver that you’re excited about?
In the summer, a couple of my friends organize a free dance event called The Vancouver Street Dance Festival. It is completely free, and is their way of sharing street dance and street dance culture with the rest of Vancouver. There will be performances, dance battles, workshops, and a lot of fun stuff. If you don’t know much about street dance, it is a very casual, easy way to be introduced to it. On the other hand, if you know everything about street dance, it is a great place to meet dancers and non dancers alike, and to feel like part of the community. It happens at the above mentioned Robson Square, August 2nd, 11:00am – late. It is always busy, lively, and a really great time. I hope to see some new faces this year, and feel free to introduce yourself if you end up coming.
9. Can you tell me one silly, inspiring, embarrassing, or noteworthy story about when you were first starting out dancing? Any mishaps or interesting things that happened?
When I was first starting dance, I was pushing myself really hard to try and catch up to some of my peers who had been dancing for a lot longer. In doing so, I ended up moving through the levels pretty fast and before long was finding myself in some of the hardest classes. While this was a good thing and helped me get to where I am, it came with a couple drawbacks. In particular, dancing above my level meant I developed a couple bad habits. My friends and teachers that I was dancing with at the time will certainly remember “The Claw”. As best as I can describe “The Claw” it was like my entire body knew I was a hip hop dancer, except for my arms and hands. My arms and hands, evidently, thought I was a Velociraptor. Because the music and choreography were quite fast, and my skill sets weren’t strong enough yet, I sometimes had to shrink my movement in order to do all the moves in time. So there I would be, doing all the steps, giving all the attitude in the world, while simultaneously having my elbows firmly pressed up against my ribs and only extending my arms from my forearms and wrists. I had no idea I was doing it until one of my teachers pointed it out, but once I saw it, it was too funny not to notice every time I danced, which ultimately got me to stop doing it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the pressure we as entrepreneurs place on ourselves to be engaging, fresh, and consistent on social media 100% of the time. While it’s important to establish credibility and consistency online, social media should not be your only venue for promotion, so you need to get a handle on your social media automation so that you can focus on your business.
Get back those lazy days with my social media automation 101 tips!
To help you create your own schedule, here’s a behind the scenes look at my social media automation here at Stylings & Stories.
Social Media Automation 101
1. Promote yo’ self.
The first way I use social media automation is for promoting myself and my business. For this, I use Hootsuite to promote my blog posts, services, and newsletter throughout my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. I schedule these posts a week, sometimes two weeks in advance to get my social media automation started.
2. Add some fun + funk.
With your social media automation strategy, you need to add in some fun, some inspiration, and some interesting articles that establish you as an expert in your field while also showing your personality online. Buffer is my favourite tool to do this. Basically, you set up a few times a day for each network you’re on, then add articles to your queue. Articles, quotes, and maybe post from your blog archives will be posted at the times you specified in your settings. I love this tool when I’m browsing the web, because I don’t have to specify a time, I just have to queue it up and it gets added to my social media automation.
3. Be present.
Social media automation needs to involve more than scheduling in advance. You need to be present on your channels to have real conversations with your followers that keep them engaged. I like to set up 20 – 40 minutes 3 – 4 times a week to be live on my networks. I use this time to post to Instagram and Pinterest, join discussions in my Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and reply to messages throughout my channels. It’s not something I can do every day, but when I can, I book it in my calendar, set a timer, and talk.
So those are the three things I do for my social media automation strategy. Remember, social media should not be your only tool for promotion, so you need to get a handle on it to focus on the rest of your business.
Meet Natalia Chouklina. Natalia Chouklina is a life coach here in Vancouver, BC + we met on Facebook! Isn’t it wonderful how we can connect online and bring those meetings out into the world? Natalia and I exchanged a conversation over bevies at Lost + Found cafe on Hastings. Here’s what she has to say ::
1. Tell me about how you got into coaching + what you love about it.
I stumbled into life coaching after years in a successful but ultimately unsatisfying career in corporate sales. For years I waited for the satisfaction to arrive but no matter how many times I changed my job, my boss, or a product line I was responsible for, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was missing.
One day, during a meeting with my boss I told him I didn’t know why I was getting out of bed. What was this all for? Being a great manager, he looked at me and said: “Well, you better find out. Get yourself a life coach because that’s exactly what they do.”
I did exactly what he suggested, and after a few coaching sessions I realized that I could have the conversations I always yearned to have and get paid for it. The rest was history.
2. How would you describe your approach to coaching? What’s your process?
This is a great question!
To tell you the truth, I don’t have a particular process that I use and I’m not interested in fitting my clients into my ol’box of tools.
Instead, I focus on meeting them where they are at, working with them on addressing their immediate challenges and equipping them with a set of tools and skills they can use long after our work is done to continue to grow and expand.
When prospective clients ask me questions about what I do, I respond that I create a safe space for them to explore their deepest truth and, once we know what that feels and looks like, we strategize on how to integrate this experience into their day-to-day life. This process is completely unique for each individual.
3. What’s the biggest challenge you have to owning your own business? How do you overcome it?
Hands down, my biggest challenge was learning how to trust myself. Why was this so important? Many times I found myself caught between the advice of the “experts” and my own gut feelings.
I was just starting out and I didn’t know squat. So when I heard an expert say “Do X, Y, Z and you will be happy,” I did it even if deep down I felt differently.
How did I overcome it? I stopped listening to everyone. That simple. I figured that I didn’t have much to lose and it couldn’t get much worse, so I started a yearlong experiment in which I consult myself, and myself only, when making decisions. Big or small. So far. So good. For starters, I’m more at peace with my choices.
4. Are there any trends in coaching that you think need debunking?
I have tremendous respect for coaches, coaching industry and everything we are doing in service to humanity. However, I’ve noticed a couple different trends emerging that piqued my attention ::
One of these trends is that change is easy and, if you just follow your heart, there’s practically no work involved. The Internet is exploding with stories about coaches and bloggers who quit their jobs on a whim and experienced success practically overnight. I can’t help but feel that something is missing here because these stories are not matching with what I’m seeing in the real world. I wrote about it here :: Darling, there’s Nothing Wrong with Having a Plan.
Another trend that I feel needs a closer look is how we relate to our fear. For some reason, we declared the fear as number one enemy of state – slay your fear, bust through your fear, tell your fear to shut up.
I know this might sound radical but fear is an important part of our emotional landscape. I see fear as a friend who means well but has poor communication skills. If its message is ignored, pushed aside or stuffed down, we risk finding ourselves in the same situation over and over again. When my clients express fear, my approach is not to dismiss it as senseless gibberish but to lean in closer and listen. This I know to be the truth, when we bring awareness and clarity into any situation, it stops being scary.
5. What are you reading right now? What are you learning from this?
I’m reading Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth, homework for my CCTP coaching program. Geneen, the author, examines how our relationship to food is a microcosm of how we relate to life in general. She states that “the way we do one thing is the way we do everything,” and I agree. Our relationship to food is a doorway into more knowledge about who we are, so is an intimate relationship, a job, a hobby and so many other things. Basically, pick your doorway and use it go deeper. Until then, you can change job or diet till the days till cows come home, you will not be happy. Highly recommend this beautiful read!
6. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
So many to choose from! Here’s what my dad said to me years ago: “You have to love money for it love you back.”
An oldie but a goody. I didn’t get it when he shared it with me but now that I have my own business, I can’t help but smile. He was right.
7. Is there a quote that’s resonating with you at the moment?
This one. It pretty much summarizes the message of my recent eCourse, She let go… ::
All any feeling wants is to be welcomed with tenderness. It wants room to unfold. It wants to relax and tell its story. It wants to dissolve like a thousand writhing snakes that with a flick of kindness become harmless strands of rope.
:: Geneen Roth
8. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
Lots of life coaching, collaborative work and… a wedding!
This year, my focus is on working with individual clients, as opposed to doing many group sessions last year. So, if you’re looking for a life coach and this is resonating, let’s talk!
I’m also in process of prototyping a new program with another coach – super excited. Without giving away too many details, we’re going to take the common the messages we hear in the industry like “It’s about the brain!” and “It’s about the heart,” and say – “It’s about both!”
And, I’m getting married to a wonderful man in October. Can’t wait!
9. What do you love most about Vancouver? What are three of your favourite places that anyone could visit?
Again, so many things to choose from!
I love that Vancouver for its size. It’s big enough to be a home to many diverse groups of people doing and creating amazing things. And, it’s small enough so that when you want to get away from everyone, it’s so easy to do.
My faves ::
Stanley Park – I live steps away and I swear to God, this place is magical.
Thierry Chocolates – What can I say? I love dessert!
Nelson + Seagull – In my opinion, it serves the best poached eggs in town!
Also, I should add, Sara Bynoe is so awesome that she squeezed me into the performance line-up of her show Comedy Gems presents Teen Angst Night. So on April 29th I read some deliciously mortifying poetry + journal entries from my 14 year old self. ( I’ll share the video footage soon! )
Read on to find out more about Sara Bynoe, like what’s she’s up to + a little something embarrassing from her early career!
1. How did you get into acting + comedy? Did you always know this is what you’d be doing?
Someone read my palm when I was ten years old. They said, “You’re going to be an actor and a writer.” My response was something like, ‘yeah, that’s exactly what I want to be.’
Acting came first. I was always drawn to performing. When I was a teenager I took after-school classes with Calgary Young People’s Theatre. As I had a lot of energy I was considered to be a more comedic performer than my friends.
I have always enjoyed writing. I also wrote a journal obsessively from the age of 10. When I was 14 years old my best friend and I started a zine we sold at punk rock shows. We mostly used it as an excuse to act silly and make fun of people that bullied us.
When I was 19 years old I rediscovered my 12-year-old self’s poetry and was so embarrassed and amused by it I knew I had to do a performance incorporating my bad teen angst poetry. That turned into Teen Angst Night, which was probably my first foray into comedy shows. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. What are you working on now?
I’m actually planning a Vancouver sabbatical. I’ll be away from June-September.
Upcoming events before my time off are ::
PAL Cabaret – Behind the Curtain
Storytelling from performing artist about comedy and drama off-stage.
At PAL Studio Theatre
3. I love that you have so many different roles + passions that you follow. (As you say you “do what you do!”) I feel like we can have a lot of pressure to define ourselves + what we do into one job title. Do you have any advice for other artists + entrepreneurs with multiple passions?
My only advice is to follow your curiosities and joyful experiences. You have to do whatever makes you happy. I know that I’ve confused people by doing different art forms, but at the end of the day I’m the one I have to please.
I’ve realized that I’m less interested in being the star of the event or show and more interested in creating spaces where people can experiment and play. I want to connect with people and sometimes that’s through dancing (Dance Dance Party Party), laughter (Teen Angst Night or Say Wha?) or though social media (I love Twitter).
As for defining oneself, that can be tricky. On one hand you need to be able to pitch yourself to a potential audience in a succinct way, on the other hand I find the undefinable interesting and engaging.
There are two quotes that I often read at for inspiration about this:
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
:: Andy Warhol
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
:: Oscar Wilde
4. Do you have a pre-performance psyche-up routine?
Not really. Mostly I try to relax and get into a playful mindset. Oh, and I never drink before a show.
5. Is there a role or a project that you’ve been dreaming to do? Something that if someone came up to you with this idea you’d say “OMG how did you know? I’ve been dying to do something like this forever!”?
I would love to host a TV show or interview series. If we’re dreaming big, anything to do with the any of the SNL lady dream-team: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolf.
I’d also love to do a panel show based on Say Wha?!
6. What’s been your biggest or most recent challenge for you in your career? How do you overcome it?
I’m my own worst enemy, for sure. Dealing with my inner gremlin is a daily battle. One thing I’ve started doing is keeping a file on my computer of nice and encouraging things people have said to me. It’s helpful to put some perspective when I’m falling into a negative thought pattern.
7. Do you have a favourite actress/performer/producer/writer (or a few) that you admire? What is it about them that you love?
I have so many! Tina Fey is smart, funny, talented and charming. I admire Lydia Davis for her unique stories and for sticking to her style. My career heroes are Writer/Performers like Greta Gerwig, Miranda July, and Lena Dunham.
8. If you could play the role of any character (from a book, real life, dead or alive), who would it be + why?
Angsty, lovesick women are my wheelhouse. My dream roles used to be Helena in A Mid Summer Night’s Dream and Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest. However, I’m a bit too old for those parts now.
9. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
First up is my sabbatical from Vancouver then we’ll see. I’ve been going full-throttle for a while and I need to recharge my batteries.
10. Aside from your own events etc, are there any upcoming events, shows, conferences, festivals, etc. in Vancouver that you’re excited about?
Ira Glass is coming to Vancouver in September and I’m going to be back for that.
The Rio Theatre has a lot of great events going on all the time, same with Hot Art Wet City. I really respect what those organizations are doing for culture in this city.
11. Can you tell me one silly, inspiring, embarrassing, or noteworthy story about when you were first starting out in your career? Any mishaps or interesting things that happened?
In grade 12 I played the Wicked Witch of the West in my high school production of The Wizard of Oz. The rainbow fell on the munchkins right before my first big entrance. Later that show the smoke machine didn’t work when I was supposed to be melting. I think I just crawled out the window I was supposed to disappear from and pretended to kill myself by jumping off the roof or something.
I remember being so angry and embarrassed after that show. I couldn’t wait until I got to theatre school where things would be more ‘professional.’ Then I got to theatre school and things were pretty much the same, only by then I’d learned how to deal with accidents better. Improv is a fantastic skill to have.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Clinton to chat about bratwurst, art, + Vancouver. Check it out ::
1. Where did the idea for Bestie come from?
Dane + I used to work together for a design studio. And we did a lot of traveling for work, and a lot of meeting, and a lot of discussing ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ ideas + projects. We had a shared currywurst experience, in Los Angeles of all places, where we started talking about how Vancouver could really use currywurst and how we kind of lived in a sausage deprived society over here. It was a little currywurst shop that this lovely couple had opened in LA. So that idea was just a casual conversation that just stuck with us and snowballed. We started doing research to the point where we took the entrepreneurial leap and haven’t looked back.
2. So this idea, is it something you jumped into right away or has it been a longer discussion.
Dane + I are really ideas people and we really love talking about interesting ideas. It doesn’t really matter what it is or where it’s coming from, serious or not, and we had this conversation whilst eating a really good currywurst and were like “Man, we should do currywurst!” And then we started talking about all the things we could do and how great it would be. And that was sort of the casual jest of a conversation and then when we got back from this trip two days later, Dane called me up and said “I keep thinking about this conversation that we had about sausages, do you wanna talk about it some more?” and I said “Yeah, I have been too!” So we went out for a beer and one beer turned into like 7 beers and 10 pages of an outline + a sketch of the business idea. And then we slowly just started doing research. We started looking at butchers and ketchup recipes and riding our bicycles around thinking about where this would go + where it would work. And it kept getting bigger and bigger to the point where we said “You know if we’re ever going to act on any of the ideas that we have this one’s got legs and now’s the time to do it because we’re young + fool hardy enough.” And then I left my job and did a business plan and took an entrepreneurial course and started putting it all together.
Then we found this spot. And that was real, signing the lease! And then we did a crowdfunding campaign.
3. Were you looking in other areas, or was it always Chinatown that you wanted to open up shop?
It was always around here. It was always in this proximity of East Vancouver. I’ve lived around Chinatown for the last seven years that I’ve been in Vancouver, so I’m really familiar with the neighbourhood and we were really excited about doing our idea here because currywurst is already this strange cultural amalgamation. It’s this German thing but it kinda comes from getting ketchup from American soldiers, curry powder from the Brits, German bratwurst, and curry has Indian ties as well. So it’s really this weird cultural amalgamation and what’s better than to put it in Chinatown and add one more layer of ambiguity to it all.
And the thing about Chinatown is we’ve lived and worked around here for some time and recognize the neighbourhood. There’s something happening in Chinatown where there’s a lot of entrepreneurs and startups and young entrepreneurs are attracted to this area for a few reasons. One there’s this historic character to it but there’s also this gritty vitality to it. There’s people on the streets, it has its own rules. And perhaps the biggest thing to is it’s affordable. So you can try something new + take a risk and not lose your shirt in the first month.
4. How did you come up with the name. It’s quite clever!
I’m glad you like it! It took us a long time to come up with the name. We had been looking for inspiration + talking about it in all different corners. One area we were looking for names was in the German/English dictionary, because we’re inspired by German street food. We had all these different name ideas + even graphic design for some of them. Then Dane called me and said “I think I know what it is… Bestie!” And I said “I love it!”
We always wanted to be a “friendly little sausage + beer parlour inspired by German street food.” So, Bestie covers the friendly part – young people’s slang for best friend – but in German it’s a common noun that means “beast” – of which we serve several kinds. But, it’s also a little bit more menacing than that, like a beast you wouldn’t want to run into in the forest. Like Beauty + the Beast, but this menacing, dangerous, dark beast that could kill you. So it’s quite a dark word in German and we really liked that dichotomy between super friendly, youthful, + warm in American and quite dark in German. Plus, we serve several kinds of beast. Also, you know, sausages. It’s bratwurst so our twitter + instagram are @bestiewurst. So it just made sense on all these different levels!
Me :: Awesome! I love that there are all those different levels of meaning to the name, not just the apparent play on words. Cool.
5. What are each of your roles in the business. Do you each wear a different hat?
Yes! I am Head Busboy and Dane is Vice President of Janitorial.
Me :: Haha!
We both do a bit of everything. So we built the place ourselves with the help of friends + family + really talented architects, Scott + Scott Architects (check out a video of S & S made by former Neatos :: Odette Visual!). And we both have strong ideas about the menu and designing the food from the get go. But neither of us are chef, so we’ve got some really talented people in the kitchen, that we feel super fortunate for. So, we’re involved in all aspects. We’ll open up shop, close shop, we’ll sometimes work lunch service + late night window. Dane does most of the operational stuff and I’ll often deal more hands on with front of house, suppliers, + equipment. We both do the training, we both steer the ship actively together. That’s the great thing about having a business partner, you don’t have to do it all alone!
6. You mentioned you renovated + built the place yourself. I’m curious about your process! What was your process of creating the space?
Cheap! We got introduced to Scott & Scott through a friend. And the reality was we needed an architect to help us get a permit approved. We didn’t have enough money to get a full creative brief, but also, Dane + I, having worked in the design industry, had strong ideas of what we wanted the place to look like, so we really wanted to work with someone who could help us get a permit but also work with us on a scale + our ideas in a nice, modest way. So we had our first meeting with them + started talking about Dieter Rams + Bauhaus + the history of hip hop. So, we were like “this is our guy.” And I can’t say enough good things about working with them.
It was an extremely small budget so we were limited by scope of materials and he drew from this place of Bauhaus meets Alpen house. Modern design in a clean organized manner, but not cold, really warm, like an Alpen house. So there’s a cuckoo clock + spruce wood that’s warm + a copper bar. But, we designed it in a clean, minimal way. A refreshing design. We wanted to add something new to Vancouver restaurant design. Light + bright + fresh.
7. It’s quite amazing what you can do on a limited budget! I read you made your own forks as well.
Yes! We made our own forks as well. A lot of what happened here came out of a necessity of not having a big budget so we had to figure out how to do it on our own. We wanted to make our own pommesgabel (transl. :: “French Fry Fork”) so we had to employ our friends + do it ourselves to make them because we couldn’t just send off + let someone else do it. Even the building of this place we had to do it using simple tools, it couldn’t be too technical.
8. What was your process in creating the menu?
Keep it simple. Focus on one thing :: sausages! And, do that one thing really well. That’s kind of the backbone. Dane + I have this simple menu outlined but we keep it rotating quite fresh + seasonal. We have some regulars who come in for lunch so we like to keep it fresh + rotating but we like to keep it simple so we don’t have to make too many dishes but keep it changing so it’s always fresh!
Sausages are the star. Then, we have all these other things that are super fun + supporting, like sauerkraut, which is super good + super good for you + a traditional German thing. And we get fresh baked pretzels in every morning and we can make a lot of different mustards. So there are lots of things we can do that make sense with our fare but also have fun with it!
We have a lot of talented folk in the kitchen. It’s a simple menu, but it’s always changing. And we have a Head Sausage Man in the kitchen. His name is Colin Johnson and he’s a Godsend and he’s really helped us turn this food into what it is.
9. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
It’s been great so far + we feel really blessed for Bestie to be a success and be going so well. People ask us about franchising, but it’s not really something that we’re interested in because we feel it’s really special and context is really important. A cute little hole-in-the-wall sausage place in Chinatown is really special and we don’t think that would translate if you just planted it anywhere.
But like I said, Dane + I are ideas guys at our core, so we’re always talking about new ideas.
10. I noticed that you collaborate with a bunch of people in the city, like Das Lexicon with Rain City Chronicles. Do you have anything like that coming up?
Yep! We’ve done some collaborations with 33 Acres beer and we’ll be doing a tap takeover with them soon where they’ll have some new beers + they’ll bring them down here and we’ll do a special menu to pair up with them. So that’s one event that’s on the horizon.
We just finished a competition with This Sandwich That Beer, it’s a blog of the same title, where a bunch of different restaurants got paired up with a randomly selected brewery and they created a beer + a sandwich to go together. We got paired up with Todd of RnB Brewing. He made an awesome beer with smoked apple cider. And it was a big competition at Portside Pub and we won first place!
One of the things that Dane + I talked about with this restaurant is that we’re able to exercise our values through design + good food + connecting with people + engaging with music + engaging with different people who are doing really great stuff. Whether it’s food or beverage or storytelling or cultural + arts stuff we just really want to reach out and connect.
11. Is there an event or collaboration that if someone came to you with this idea you’d be really excited to do?
Yeah, it could be wide open! I’d love to be able to get live music in here. There’s a bit of licensing around that. We had record sale here on Sunday. One of the biggest things for us is engaging with the arts. Creative projects. Whether it’s art, design, music.
12. If someone has an idea they want to work with you on, what’s the best way for them to approach you?
Come in for a bratwurst or a rootbeer + chat us up!
13. Are there any upcoming Vancouver events that you’re really excited about?
>> Dane is really involved with the record sale, he has a side project called PacificRhythm.org + they’re all about bringing in interesting + rare records.
>> Dane will be going to Detroit to listen to the electronic music festival.
>> I’ve been drinking a lot of cider here at Bestie + I’ll be doing a cider tasting at Sunday School which is wine tasting, you should check it out! It’s a really fun way to do wine + cider tasting.
>> We’re also going to try to commission some public art here in Chinatown.
14. Can you share an interesting story about when you were first starting out? Any mishaps or fun things that happened?
When Dane + I first set out on this project we made an agreement, we shook on it, that we knew it was going to be stressful, crazy things would happen, there would be setbacks + we didn’t really know what we were doing, I mean we’d never opened a restaurant, let alone built one. So, we shook hands and said “no matter what happens let’s have fun and keep our heads up!” So we did! And we really try to keep to that philosophy. We’ve had so many goofy times where things went haywire + we were able to laugh about it because in a couple days we knew we’d figure it out + it wouldn’t matter anymore. There was a ton of different things that happened, but our outlook and philosophy made it better.
So that’s Bestie! If you’re in Vancouver, make sure to head to Columbia + Pender for a tasty wiener.
*** Vancouver Neatos is a weekly series where I interview neat people in Vancouver. If you know of someone doing something neat in Vancouver, email me their deets + I’ll add them to my list.
Here’s the thing. I love art + I love anything that brings wonderful people together. The Chinatown Experiment does both, plus good food, pretty clothes, local + international entrepreneurs, even weddings. See, The Chinatown Experiment is a pop up shop host, and more! People with ideas get in touch with Devon MacKenzie + Yash Nijati, the team behind TCE, to bring those visions to life. Not only do these two fellas create a space for these projects, but they can help with the entire process of launching + promoting your shop. Think of them as Pop Up Architects.
They’ve recently opened a new space called The Midtown Experiment, which itself is a sort of pop up shop in that it’s only here for the Spring. I met Yash at Revolver Coffee to learn more! Here it is ::
1. Tell me a little bit about how The Chinatown Experiment started.
So Devon saw a need for people needing a space for pop ups and that’s how it all started in September 2012. Then, in May 2013, I rented the space for my own pop up, because I have another business (Yummus) and I had a pop up café there. I wasn’t just serving hummus, but that was a part of it. And then afterwards, I had some ideas that he thought were really interesting. So, from there, we started working together.
2. How did The Chinatown Experiment transition to include The Midtown Experiment?
When it started, it was just about space rental. But, after I came on, it was more that we were offering a service as pop up architects. So, helping people find space, helping people with the marketing, helping people promote. When you do a pop up there’s a lot that comes in to make it happen. We always had our shop and sometimes people would come back to us for our service but maybe they didn’t want to do it in that space again so we help them find one. Or maybe they would say they want to do another pop up, but that’s not really the right market. So we had some history of doing that a bunch. In Midtown, there’s actually a development going up there who got in touch with us and said “we have this empty store and we’d like to get some use out of it before it gets torn down, are you interested in creating what you did in Chinatown and bringing it over here?” We thought it was a great idea. It gives us, for three months, a second location, a kitchen, appliances, a different option.
3. So The Midtown Experiment itself is almost like a pop up too. It’s temporary?
Yes, it is. It started at the end of March, but it’s really going to get going this week. And until June 1st, we will have back to back pop ups.
4. Have you noticed a difference in the types of shops in Chinatown versus the types of shops in Midtown? Is it a different experience?
Yeah. Midtown offers two things that Chinatown doesn’t. One, it’s a bigger space. Two, it doesn’t have as much foot traffic, but a lot of drive by traffic. And it’s on the corner. So if somebody’s trying to get their logo and their brand recognized it’s a great place to put it there.
As far as clients go, two of the clients there have been with us in Chinatown, but this is a better fit for them. So, a similar client base.
5. What’s the process for someone who wants to host a pop up shop?
Email us! Some people write like page-long paragraphs because they’re really passionate and some people just write to ask what our rates are. People inquire with us and we tell them our rates, tell them what we do. It’s only been about 18 months, so people know that we do the space, but they don’t necessarily know that we do everything else.
If somebody wants to book with us, we generally look at our schedule and spread out similar shops a bit because we don’t want to have a bunch of galleries, or a lot of clothing stores in a row, so we spread it out because we want it to be a mix of things.
6. So, you have the space rental. What are the other services you offer?
We doing everything. We have a client coming in from Calgary now who has stores across Canada, but they’re not in BC yet. They want to open a store, but they want to do a pop up first and we’re helping them with everything. So space, a PR campaign around the pop up, poster design, putting together a launch event. We’re organizing everything for that like a liquor sponsorship, licensing, anything really so they just bring the product and set up. We’re doing window vinyls for them, and that’s pretty much everything that we do.
So some people will say yes, we want it all and others just want the space.
7. Do you feel there’s a common takeaway that your clients have after hosting a pop up shop?
I would say that the general thing of it is people realize that it’s not that hard to do. If you haven’t done it before and we help you in some ways, then it’s just a matter of doing it. So they realize it is a lot of work, yes, but it’s not hard. Anyone with the right planning can do it. Also, some people really get a lot of exposure from us, the younger brands. You know, they’re not really looking for a lot of sales but more for exposure. So generally it’s something, that if you don’t have a store, it’s really just a no brainer to do.
8. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do a pop up shop?
Know why you’re doing it. Some people will do it as a launch, some people will do it for sales, some people will do it for networking + to get into the media. So know why you’re doing it because your approach is going to be very different and the steps you need to get there based on your goal. So be clear on that first.
9. Is there any type of shop that you’d be really interested in doing? Something where if someone approached you with it, you’d be super excited to get started.
Yeah, that actually happened. I always really wanted to have a pop up florist, so we’re going to have that for Mother’s Day weekend. Myself, I reached out to a local graffiti artist who does street script. It’s rap lyrics done on a poster then pasted onto the walls. So, I reached out to her and said “hey you should do this with us.” We’re having a hip hop night with her artwork for sale. What else?! I like to do theme nights. Where you come in and, say someone’s selling cabana chairs, we’ll make the store look like a beach. It’s more pricey but it stands out. You know, products on a shelf are great but the theme is better.
10. When I did a little research on you, the Internet told me that you’re a pro when it comes to sales. What’s your secret?
I don’t know. There’s not really a secret! It’s talking and listening, you know. Listening first and then not being afraid to ask questions. That’s really it. I mean I also have experience with sales in a former life, so that helps too.
11. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
With this, right now, this brand, The Chinatown Experiment, is an established brand a bit. You know, some people know it, but not everybody. But I think it doesn’t properly convey what we do. It was a great name to start, but I think that needs to change to convey everything that we do. We’re not just Chinatown anymore, we’re pop up architects.
12. Aside from your own, are there any upcoming events, shows, conferences, festivals, etc. in Vancouver that you’re excited about?
I really enjoy people who bring new things to Vancouver, so Brewery and the Beast comes to mind. It’s a big beer and meat festival. A few things I work on myself really excite me too.
Me :: What kinds of things?
I just did the first Film Feast. It’s a pop up dinner with Winner Winner, a group of three guys who work in restaurants in Vancouver. Basically we pair a foodie film with the food that’s being shown in the film. So you’re watching the film and eating the food that you’re seeing. The last movie was Tampopo which is a Japanese film about ramen. So we were serving ramen. We have a series of those coming up!
I also have an event coming up here (at Revolver Coffee) as well. It’s called Late Nite Art. For that, I do the food. We cover all the tables with paper and leave out art supplies. And first, everybody comes then they eat with a stranger then Julian Thomas, my co-organizer, starts facilitating by asking questions and everyone draws out their answers. It’s just a big dinner art party!
13. Can you tell me one silly, inspiring, embarrassing, or noteworthy story about when you were first starting out in your career? Any mishaps or interesting things that happened?
So the first dinner I did for the pop up I did at Chinatown, called ShwāyShwāy café. During the day we were open for coffee and tea and lunch plates and the lunch had hummus in it as well. And for dinner it was a seated dinner. But the problem with the Chinatown pop up is that it doesn’t have a kitchen, so I had to design the menu so that it would work there, but I wanted to serve warm food. So I did Moroccan tagine, which is made on this clay dish with a dome overtop and you put vegetables and sauce in it, then put it in the oven for three hours, and then you serve it. So, not having a kitchen there, I had to use my oven and a friend’s oven. During the dinner service I had to drive home pick up one, put it in the car, pick up another, put it in the car, and then come back and serve it. And, the timing worked out well, except that the first night I don’t know what happened with my oven, I mean it was cooked, but not fully cooked. So I’m serving all these people but I couldn’t sleep after that night. So I had to make up for it after that night. And luckily I had two more nights and hopefully made up for it and in the grand scheme of things people don’t hate me.
Also, on the third night actually, I was driving and my car ran out of gas. And so I sprinted home, grabbed my roommates car, left my car at the side of the road, and served the dish. So that was fun!
Oh my gosh! That’s quite the story. Love it!
So, that’s Yash with The Chinatown Experiment and The Midtown Experiment. If you want to learn more, head on over to one of their pop ups and say hi. They’ve got Citizen Grace clothing shop coming up in Midtown and a multi-media art installation, Terminal City Re-Wired, in Chinatown. Get on over there!
*** Vancouver Neatos is a weekly series where I interview neat people in Vancouver. If you know of someone doing something neat in Vancouver, email me their deets + I’ll add them to my list.
/trōl/ ugly, hairy, mean beasts who live under bridges
I experienced my first troll via the blogosphere this past weekend, and I gotta admit it stung a little. This person scouted me out through a guest post I wrote on Lifehack and emailed me their disgruntled, highly unfounded bullshit. Through a fake email nonetheless.
The title of the article is 10 Things Happy People Don’t Believe.
This poor person obviously didn’t thoroughly read my tips for happiness before unloading their anger + unhappiness onto me. So, after about 10 minutes of feeling my hurt, because I’m not just gonna brush that pain aside, I said a little prayer for them and enlisted some of my favourite bloggers, + a little inner wisdom, to help me deal with it.
So here’s how to deal with trolls.
4 Ways to Deal with Trolls Under Your Bridge
1. Ignore them.
Don’t fuel the negativity of a trolly comment. Like Gabby Bernstein says “forgive + delete,” then move on. If you need to, take a few minutes to grieve + release the hurt of the attack, but don’t let it consume you. The hatefulness says more about them than it does about you.
2. Celebrate your success.
Trolls don’t normally seek out opportunities for attack unless they feel they will be given a venue for their validation. So, celebrate this harassment as an affirmation of your success. For every one person who hates what you’re doing there are 10, 100, or 10 thousand who love it. If you ain’t got no enemies you ain’t standing for no nothin’.
3. Say a prayer for them.
Like I said, this comment says more about the troll than it does about you, so obviously they are living a sad, dark life at the moment + need some light. Take 30 seconds to send love to them. You don’t have to write a thank you note, just affirm some joy for them.
4. Spread some love.
One of my favourite ways of uplifting my spirit is to spread love. This could take the form of self-kindness or a random act of goodness towards a stranger. You could even call a friend. What better way to eliminate hate than to seek out someone who loves you!
Resources to deal with trolls from internet gurus ::
This is Chris Bentzen. Chris Bentzen is the founder + owner of Hot Art Wet City, a Vancouver art gallery featuring art that’s weird. I was eager to meet with Chris after hearing about his gallery’s Hot Talks at Creative Mornings a couple weeks ago. So, last week, we discussed art, cycling, and a little bit of burlesque over tea at Kafka’s. Here’s a snippet of our conversation ::
1. Tell me about why you opened Hot Art Wet City.
I was visiting galleries + seeing great art in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco and the galleries in Vancouver were all missing something that those other galleries had. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. They weren’t having the same shows all the time, they were letting artists experiment more rather than just commissioning what would just sell. I wanted to give artists a chance to show something that no one else was seeing, plus just have a cool place to go. A big thing about those galleries was that they were smaller and more intimate, I liked that.
2. Tell me about the artwork you choose to showcase in your gallery.
I think in Vancouver, art is predominantly abstract landscape and I didn’t want to see any more of that. I also didn’t want to have a high end gallery. I didn’t feel comfortable with that. As far as the art being made, it’s just the weird stuff. People who are kind of bordering illustration, or maybe they’re just illustrators and want to shift a little into fine art. Or taking their illustration and putting it in a fine art context. And then, more figurative work, more narrative work. Or just crazy stuff. Like “Boobies + Wieners,” for example. There’d been serious nude shows in Vancouver, but I wanted to see that weird, “what is going on here?” show. That’s what I’m looking for.
3. And, how did the events Hot One Inch Action + Carded come into play?
Hot One Inch Action started in 2003. So, I was doing an art show in 2003 with large paintings and one inch buttons, and Jim, the guy I do the button show with, met me there and saw the buttons and saw how well they were doing and said to me, “oh we should do a show” but he wasn’t sure what. So we met and discussed the details and out of that discussion came the idea of selling the buttons in batches so that people would trade them, and so that we didn’t get stuck with a bunch of buttons because there’s always gonna be that one that nobody wants. We did the first Hot One Inch Action a few months after my show, and we were really excited about it and the interactive part really added something, so we just kept doing it. Around year five, we started Carded because we wanted to do more of the shows but didn’t want to be doing the same show twice a year and it also gave artists a bigger surface area to work on and also we were able to put their information on the back, like a regular trading card.
4. So, Hot Talks! What are you looking for when you pick someone to speak?
I have a volunteer who chooses most of the speakers, I’ve given her suggestions, like the one in May was Danielle Krysa, The Jealous Curator, she did a book signing + talk. But most of the time I let her choose with the guideline of interesting people, with interesting things to say. It’s currently inspired by Pecha Kucha talks. Also, there’s a gallery called Hand Eye Supply and they do a talk called Curiosity Club that I originally wanted to brand Hot Talks after. It’s where people talk about what interests them, like one guy talked about lock picking. It’s a hobby of his, I don’t know what he does with that hobby, but it was really interesting. People discussing things that they’re passionate about. There hasn’t been one yet, but I’d like to see interactivity too. It’s really 20 – 30 minute talk with a Q + A, and sometimes we go out for drinks after to keep the conversation going.
Me :: It’s nice your space is smaller, so you can have a more intimate conversation. Whereas Pecha Kucha is in a theatre basically, so you don’t really get that same chance to interact with the artist.
Yeah. And, we can seat about 50 people, maybe a bit more if they’re standing. It’s fun having the different people there too. The next one is dancers/choreographers. I don’t really interact with that side of the arts community, so I think that will be interesting. It’ll be a change for me. Meeting new people in a different part of the arts community. Also, bringing people into a gallery who don’t normally step into a gallery. Which is also why I do the comedy shows.
Me :: Okay! So you do comedy shows in the gallery? That’s yoga, comedy shows…
…talks, and workshops. Anything I can do that gets people into the gallery and interacting with the art. And just having a good time.
5. So going back to having sort of different art up, why do you think there’s a lack of interest or a lack of exposure for that type of art? Why does Vancouver stick to the more traditional pieces?
Traditional sells. People like it. Tourists like it too. And, what I’m finding is tourists who are looking for the type of stuff that I’m doing, are finding me on Tourism Vancouver and then coming just to see me and leaving Main Street immediately. I think it’s challenging for a lot of people to open a gallery, like what I’m doing. It’s hard to find a spot that’s cheap. I’ve seen a lot of galleries that have opened and closed in Chinatown and Gastown. You don’t see that on Main Street unless it’s part of an organization or a coffee shop. And it’s too bad. I wish more people would take that risk. They may even have a better idea than me, but I think they’re just a little afraid.
6. Do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out?
Put all your time into it. Put all your time into making art. Put all your time into going to shows to meet other artists, to meet curators, to meet people who are interested in art. Put your art in as many group shows as possible. If you feel like you’re ready, do your own show. Get your art in coffee shops and stuff. There are lots of great places to hang art in Vancouver if you’re just starting out even if galleries aren’t willing to take a chance on you. Take all your time to practice, practice, practice.
Oh, and never compare yourself to other artists. So many artists get discouraged comparing themselves to other artists. There’s always somebody better than you. You’re never going to be the best. No matter how big you are there’s always going to be somebody better. So, don’t compare yourself. Just do your thing and try to experiment and put your time into it. And, maybe you never really make anything of it or you never get any recognition for it, and it becomes something you just do, but you should still do it.
Me :: Totally. And, you can’t compare yourself to others because everything is different. I mean there’s always something similar, everything’s been done before, but the way you do it is your own way and you can’t compare that to anything. If you’re doing something good, there’s not going to be anything really like it out there.
Yes. And there’s always going to be people who compare you to others. There’s always something similar out there and you build off those people. There’s a guy who has a series on Vimeo who says everything is a remix. I find that very interesting. We think we’re creative and unique individuals but really we’re just remixing what everyone else has done before.
7. What’s in the works for you in the near future?
More comedy shows. I’d also like to find a theatre group. There’s a back room at the gallery and I’d like to see that used as a really tiny theatre, even a movie theatre. There was a place in Gastown, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was a theatre, and they could sit about 50 or 60 people, and they’d show not even indie movies, but things that people made on video. So it’d be cool to do that in a gallery. Have 20 people in the audience and have the performance like as far away as you are (a coffee table away). It changes the dynamic.
Me :: You could do a burlesque show. With that proximity it would be really intense.
Yes. There’s something similar to that right now, Dr. Sketchy. She’s a burlesque model for life drawing. There’s a range of dressed to undressed depending on the night you’re in. It’s three hours with a burlesque performance, just one song, and you’re life drawing for three hours. And, yeah, the burlesque performance would be really intense.
Me :: It’s an experience for the audience, but also an experience for the performer too who’s not used to being so close.
If it’s somebody like Lola ( Lola Frost ), she’s very expressive, so it’d be a very sexual experience too. Whereas a regular burlesque show is sexy, but not necessarily an experience of sex.
8. Are there any upcoming events or shows, not necessarily that you’re organizing, but something you’re excited about in Vancouver?
I kind of go night to night, but I’m excited that The Sunday Service, a local comedy group, is at Fox Cabaret. They started there this past week. Actually, anything that they do! And also, Ryan Beil, who is part of the Sunday Service + owns Little Mountain Studio, that used to be a gallery, then Ryan Beil took it over and is now more of a comedy school. They do shows there regularly. Anything he does. Especially their show Rapp Battlez. I’m also excited about the comedy that’s coming into Hot Art Wet City.
9. When you were first starting out, do you have any interesting stories or mishaps that you can share?
I was always worried that there’d be more street people coming into the gallery. Or, maybe not worried, but more wondering how would I deal with it. I’ve worked in retail and was always just able to call security to solve the problem. This one guy, the first week the gallery opened, came in and he just reeked. Just reeked! He smelled so bad. And I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He was carrying this table and he was talking to me about this table. He was obviously from the street, he was dirty and smelled so bad and just kept going on about this table. But then he saw the art on the walls and he just immediately relaxed and he started looking at everything. Then it shifted from this moment of what’s he going to do, thinking that this could go really bad because he was just gripping this table, then he just relaxed. For me it was the relief that I wouldn’t have to deal with it and for him it was the realization that this is a safe place and interesting.
So, that’s Chris Bentzen! If you want to learn more, head on over to Hot Art Wet City at Main + 6th any Wednesday to Saturday. The next Hot Talks is on April 24th at 6:30pm and the next Carded is April 26th at 7pm. Go!
*** Vancouver Neatos is a weekly series where I interview neat people in Vancouver. If you know of someone doing something neat in Vancouver, email me their deets + I’ll add them to my list.