Since it's opening, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre gift shop has provided market exposure for First Nationss artists that was previously hard to come by. For the first time, the work of both veteran and novice artists were collected in one place for visitors to browse and purchase. By most accounts the experience has been positive.
Now, the SLCC has taken its gift shop online to provide further exposure for its artists. Launched last week, the online shop, shop.slcc.ca, is a virtual gallery of First Nations art, now accessible to customers across the world.
"Our hopes are to grow the volume of art and giftware that we can sell," says Casey Vanden Heuvel, executive director of the SLCC. "We will also be supporting First Nations artists at the same time because essentially they're providing us with the content."
It's a plum deal for the artists: they earn 75 per cent of the selling price while getting market exposure to demographics that they may not have previously had access to. The physical gift shop has been able to help the professional development of First Nations artists and the hope now is to expand these opportunities through the online market.
"Most artists don't have the time or the necessary resources to develop something online themselves, so really we thought we could bring together various resources that we have available to us as well as the incredibly authentic and rich resources that artists bring, in terms of their artwork, and who they are and their stories — let's bring it all together and present something online," Vanden Heuvel says.
The SLCC is utilizing online marketing techniques and social media to push the online store into larger awareness, while focusing in on their key demographics: residents of the Pacific Northwest.
"We send a lot of stuff down to the Lower Mainland and to the Seattle area. The Northwest consumer has a greater (awareness) of Northwest art obviously, and therefore an appreciation of what kind of art they have access to through our cultural centre and the value that we provide," Vanden Heuvel says.
The website has become an essential component to the Sea to Sky Cultural Journey — a joint project between the province and the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations that maps out the visual and oral history of First Nations along the Sea to Sky highway, starting in West Vancouver and ending at the SLCC. A mandate of the Western Economic Diversification grant, which provided funding for the second phase of the Cultural Journey, was to support First Nations business development along the corridor. The online store is a way to develop the SLCC brand while providing opportunities for First Nations to sell their products to larger market.
"We really wanted to expand on the success that we're achieving in person at our store at the cultural centre. If something's working, see how you can potentially expand upon it," he says.
"The feedback that we get is really around amazing products, good value. But the fact that the customers know that it's authentic, that it's coming from a First Nation's cultural centre, there's a confidence that what we're selling is authentic to First Nations art and that we provide a great deal of support for First Nations artists."