Bridging art and entrepreneurship – Comox Valley Record

This story is part of Comox Valley Record’s Fall issue of Trio Magazine, which is published quarterly and is available throughout the Comox Valley.


Jasper Myers

The Wachiay (pronounced watch-ee-ay) Studio, owned by the Wachiay Friendship Center Society, provides screen printing services to people and businesses in the Comox Valley.

Alivia Flaherty, head of the studio, said the studio operates as a “social enterprise”.

“All of our profits are returned to our community,” Flaherty said.

The studio also hosts a variety of workshops, training courses, and other community events such as live printing at markets.

“We’re like a commercial printer that makes and prints t-shirts, posters, and fine art prints for clients,” she said. “And then we can give back any money we make … through education and community events.”

The studio’s bread and butter is the local businesses it works with. Flaherty said it could be anything from marketing materials to someone who has created a clothing line and picked colors and designs that Wachiay Studio then prints for them.

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On the art side, many of the fine art prints Wachiay Studio produces are by Indigenous artists, as Flaherty says screenprinting is great for First Nations art — especially Northwest Coast art.

Flaherty said the studio’s goal is to give people the skills they need to turn screen printing into a business, and to enable individuals to be self-reliant and empower the local economy.

“Screen printing is really everywhere,” she said. “It’s in our phones and computers, in marketing and advertising, in the clothes we wear. It’s in medicine like the little tabs you would use to test your insulin levels for diabetes – these are screen printed… we use it for the fun stuff but there are some really incredible things that people do.

The studio offers more than 14 screenprinting courses and for those who have taken the introductory course there are open studio evenings to come by and use the facility.

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The studio was formed in 2013 when the Friendship Center partnered with Andy McDougall, a world-renowned 40-year screenprint veteran, and Northwest Coast Indigenous artist Andy Everson.

“Basically, Andy and Andy started an after-school program together to teach kids how to screenprint,” Flaherty explained.

This began in the Friendship Center common room with a program called One Tribe.

“The idea was to combine art and entrepreneurship,” she said. “Students learned about Northwest Coast art from Andy Everson and then about screenprinting from Andy McDougall.”

Students then sold their wares at markets and other community events.

Flaherty noted that the program was so successful that it led to the formation of Wachiay Studio in 2015, giving them their own studio space within the centre.

The studio received grants in 2020 that enabled even greater growth that allowed them to expand, particularly in their educational offerings as well as in terms of facility.

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“We got a big grant to do some renovations,” Flaherty said. “Some studio upgrades, equipment upgrades that also really allowed us to expand our capacity.”

As for the future of Wachiay Studio, Flaherty noted that the goals usually depend on who is on the team and their unique skills and what the Friendship Center is looking for to support people.

“This contribution to entrepreneurship in particular has played a major role during the course of the pandemic. To be able to give people the tools to work from home or be less dependent on a job,” she said.

“Now where we want to continue to grow is our community development and building a community of printers that not only interact with us but also with each other.”

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