Every month, founder and owner of Bird On A Wire Creations, Kate Nagel, visits a local artist in their studio to learn all about their journey as crafters, creators, and entrepreneurs. This month we met with JustPotters.

An Introduction: Giving Back to Your Community

How do you like to show up in your community? Is there some way you give back or contribute to the community you live in? Does your career or workplace provide you ways to give back? Welcome back! After a brief summer break, we are returning to what we love. Bird on a Wire Creations' Where Artists Create series is a collection of studio tours of the great makers of Vancouver. Through monthly blog posts, we celebrate the immense fortune we have to represent these artists and share their stories. Over the summer we contemplated the very questions asked in the opening paragraph. As a business that supports local emerging makers through both collaborative work and mentorship, we wondered what else we could do to give back to our community. The answer was a quick and simple one: by sharing the incredible story of JustPotters, a division of JustWork Economic Initiative. JustPotters is a Vancouver-based enterprise that provides gainful employment opportunities to persons facing multiple barriers to work. We invite you to read about this amazing local business that offers so much to all who work there.

JustPotters: A Non Profit Social Enterprise

[gallery link="none" columns="2" size="large" ids="11226,11227"] We reached out to JustPotters to learn about their mission. Robyn Williams, a potter that has her ceramic work with us at Bird on a Wire Creations (BoaWC), has been an active participant of JustPotters since their inception in 2000. Robyn explains, “More than 18 years ago a little pottery studio was opened in East Van that sought to bring the clay work craft to people who were economically marginalized.” The participants were able to learn pottery, and participate in community building through the arts in a supportive and welcoming environment. Initially this was a stand alone project that soon partnered with JustWork Economic Initiative and was transformed into a social enterprise.  Robyn adds, “For the past 12 years JustPotters has successfully employed people in a production pottery studio that now also offers classes and workshops. A part of the motivation for this social enterprise was the thought that justice doing is a more humanising path than philanthropy.” We asked Robyn about justice doing and she explains, “Justice doing is the process of mutual transformation that allows for individuals to lead the process of change and develop agency over their own lives.” This is brilliant! Why? Because this offers employment while it combats economic marginalisation, and builds resilience and confidence in the people taking part in the program. In turn, this provides the participant to have agency over their own lives. Robyn concludes, “Many artists are marginalised in our community and offering a place for employment and creativity has given artists from the margins hope to continue to develop their craft in a supportive setting. Beautiful people, beautiful work and the continuous striving for justice make JustPotters a unique and valuable place.”

Visiting the JustPotters Studio

[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="11224,11225"] Intrigued, we decided to visit the JustPotters studio, found in the basement of the Grandview Calvary Baptist Church just off 1st Ave in Vancouver. We received a tour by the studio manager, Niki, and spoke about her experience with JustPotters. Niki shares, “We provide meaningful employment to people. People who experience barriers to the typical workforce. They can come here learn a skill, receive support, kindness, and understanding while building their tools for self reliance.” Even though Niki has a degree is in the arts and will always be a potter first, she had long ago realized that in order to live in Vancouver she needed a job that allowed her to pay the bills. She worked as a landscaper for many years, but after a car accident left her unable to continue in that field, she began looking for other opportunities. In September 2017, needing work and relying now on her education and passion, Niki applied for the position of thrower (a craftsperson who shapes pottery on a potter's wheel) at JustPotters. Her barrier: an injured landscaper. “I am amazed that this has all fallen into place," Niki confides. "With my education and skills as a potter, that I could find such an incredible job like this. This place combines both art and helping people. I feel this job was made for me.” Early 2018 the studio manager position opened up and Niki was encouraged to apply. “In my new position as studio Manager, I am still do some pottery work, while I manage the daily operations of JustPotters. However, I find my greatest joy comes from listening to the stories, and life experiences from those individuals who come to learn a new skill here. We provide a work environment that is flexible, accommodating and nurturing. The participants know that if something is going on, we are here for them.” We asked how a person, stuck in the same position that Niki found herself in, could find out about programs like this. Niki shares that it all takes place through the Grandview Calvary Baptist Church's outreach program.

Where to Find JustPotters Ceramics in Vancouver

[gallery link="none" columns="2" size="large" ids="11231,11230"] At BoaWC, we carry ceramics mugs, teapots, dishes and more created by JustPotters' talented craftspeople, and have proudly supported their mission for many years. JustPotters also partners with a few shops and bookstores around Vancouver, like the bookstore at Regent University operating out of UBC. Niki shares, “BoaWC is solving one of the biggest challenges that our makers have, and that is to get their work out into the world. It is one thing to be a creative person and make art, it is a completely different thing to promote yourself.” She continues, “JustPotters relies on a few local businesses and churches that sell the clay works, to build their brand awareness.” They continue to build relationships with businesses and through word of mouth. For example, through the Regent University bookstore, JustPotters recently received an order for 150 crosses to be given as favours at a wedding. Yes, they do custom orders as well! After following JustPotters' journey and learning about the lasting impact their enterprise has on our local community, we hope you are inspired to answer the following questions yourself: How do you like to show up in your community? Is there some way you give back or contribute to the community you live in? Does your career or workplace provide you ways to give back?   Next month we visit Megan Stewart in her home studio. Megan will be teaching our upcoming Bauble Wreath workshop in November! Until then, we bid you adieu and may your journey be filled with opportunities to express your creativity. For more creative content, connect with us on Facebook!

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