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Artpreneur 2019 packed the house at Bayview Yards. This year's conference will be virtual. Photo courtesy of Arts Network Ottawa.

Artpreneur 2020 to address disruption of the creative sector in Ottawa and beyond

By Ryan Pepper and Greggory Clark on November 11, 2020

Artpreneur is going virtual for 2020, with three days of talks, panels, and presentations taking place on November 21, 23 and 25. The conference is spaced out over five days to spare participants the “screen fatigue” that affects even the best of us after hours of Zoom calls.

The event is an annual conference presented by Arts Network Ottawa, Wallack’s, Invest Ottawa, and SHIFTER Agency that brings together local and national creative experts in the same room—err, Zoom call—with business leaders and entrepreneurs to help artists build their professional capacity. New this year, registration is on a pay-what-you-can basis, and sessions will include closed captioning (in English) to improve accessibility.

But as Alex Maltby, a co-organizer with Arts Network Ottawa, made clear, the transition to online isn’t the only thing that’s changed about this year’s conference.

“This year is different because we’ve been thrown into this crisis, and the sector itself is in crisis, and there’s severe income disruption,” Maltby says. “There are so many, particularly gig economy, artists and folks working in the arts that are looking at switching careers.”

There are so many, particularly gig economy, artists and folks working in the arts that are looking at switching careers.

With COVID-19 grinding the gig economy to a halt, this year’s Artpreneur will address the economic, social, and cultural disruption of the arts sector in Ottawa and beyond. Maltby said this year will focus more on policy than ever before, as questions linger about what governments can and should be doing to keep the culture sector afloat—and to avoid this happening again.

“It’s an opportunity for us to convene as a broader community to talk about the reality of the situation, and how we want to move forward together, because we all know that nobody can do this alone,” says Maltby.

Speakers will address what “recovery” means to them as artists and policy-makers, as organizations of all disciplines aim to restore or innovate in the sector during COVID-19.

Keynote speaker Zainub Verjee. Photo courtesy of Arts Network Ottawa.

2020 Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts award winner Zainub Verjee will be the keynote speaker. Verjee, who is the executive director of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries, is currently involved in the national campaign for basic income and co-authored a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on basic income guarantee, #artists4basicincome.

“She’s been advocating for a more equitable and inclusive creative sector, and has been doing a lot of work and writing around artists’ labour and what that means within this moment, and universal basic income and how we treat and conceptualize the work of an artist within our culture and economy,” Maltby says. “This is the kernel of what we want to talk about.”

The conference will conclude with a talk by representatives from the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Arts Council on their projections of the economic and social impact of COVID-19. The increased role of arts policy is essential, Maltby believes, because it’s impossible to have conversations about entrepreneurship without accounting for the larger context.

Everyone is feeling this collective trauma of this crisis together.

But networking is still an important part of the experience, even if the conference is over Zoom, and Maltby says the organizers have been working hard to recreate the “exchange of business cards” that typically defines an Artpreneur conference.

“Everyone is feeling this collective trauma of this crisis together, and while I think this conference serves as a unique opportunity for people to come together and have these conversations, the real work is going to continue into next year and who knows how long,” Maltby says.

Other talks will include City Fidelia on his new creative agency Real House of Ensemble, Music.Art.Ppl on how they formed their collective, and a panel discussion identifying gaps in post-secondary education and arts training.

Conference schedule

Day 1: Saturday, November 21

Day 2: Monday, November 23

Day 3: Wednesday, November 25


The 2020 Artpreneur conference is happening November 21, 23, and 25. Attendees can register for free for each day or for individual sessions. Schedules and registration can be found on the Artpreneur page