Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the talented artist, gifting expert and entrepreneur, Kate Nagel, owner/operator of Bird on a Wire Creations, an award winning retail storefront in Vancouver promoting locally made arts and crafts. Creativity has been a lifelong insatiable passion for Kate, having acquired many skills along the way. She was taught to knit, embroider, and cross stitch at young age by her Oma, as a teen she sewed her own clothes (or what is now call up-cycled – reinventing clothes), was an honours grad in high school with an arts major. From 1996 to 2000, Kate owned and operated her first business, a paint-your-own ceramic studio in Squamish called ‘Paintin’ Place – The Alternative Studio, where she taught classes, arranged for Emily Carr College to teach classes in her studio, and was president of the Squamish Arts Council. In 2009, as she was witnessing the erosion of support for the arts, she made a decision to create a place to not only support the arts but to connect community through the arts. And from that critical decision, Bird on a Wire Creations was born. Kate and her gifted team curate Vancouver’s best art and artisanal objects —all one-of-a-kind, all handmade. The store has been in the top 3, with one year winning 1st place, for the Best Gift Store in Vancouver, until The Georgia Straight removed the category. Kate is one of the Directors of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association (MPBIA) and is the proud Momma of 3 amazing children Lucas, Lauren, and EsaBella. Kate believes that her work as an advocate for artists, shifting the paradigm from starving artist to thriving artist, is what she was meant to do. She is a creative catalyst and a great promoter and is always looking forward to seeing what we can all create! And to that we say an exuberant YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I don’t know if I have ever thought or seen myself as a Girl Warrior. There have been times I have been brave, and there are times that I have been quite afraid and almost frozen in that moment of fear. I have either moved forward, or not. But as I contemplate this very question, and look back at all I have accomplished and experienced. I believe I can own the badge of honor as a Girl Warrior.
My idea of a Girl Warrior as someone who is brave, and willing to acknowledge when they are not, but step into the fear anyway. I have never been a typical female…ever! As a young girl growing up in Northern BC, my chosen ‘toy’ was a hammer and I would create things like a fort, or in the summers Mom would pack me a lunch, I would take my fishing rod and go off in the woods and fish. Mom’s rule was always, be back by dark, and if I caught a fish I would have to gut it myself– she would cook it, but I had to gut it. This theme of being different and living a life seen as atypical has been a constant throughout my life.
What inspired you to open Bird on a Wire Creations?
I like to tell this story. In 2009 the Provincial government cut the funding to the Arts community and the Fringe Fest was the hardest hit. I remember hearing the news of this on CBC radio One and I got mad. The messages we receive growing up is that art is play, and serious career minded people focus on meaningful jobs, not art. Along with, ONLY the really good artists make a living at it. So, when I heard this news of yet again funding would be cut to the Arts, coupled with the fact that art and creative programs are always cut first in the public school system, I got mad…and then I thought…getting mad is not going to get me anywhere. How can I take this angry energy and do something creative and productive with it?
I had just reacquainted myself with crafting and had just watched two documentaries “Handmade Nation” and “Who Does She Think She Is?” and I thought, ‘I believe in the importance and significance of the creative maker to the health and wellness of our community. Since we receive the message that art is not a viable career choice for the masses, I am going to create a space that supports our local makers.’ I feel I was called to take up this career choice and carry a personal mandate of shifting the paradigm of starving artist to thriving artist…and that is how Bird on a Wire Creations began.
How do you shift the paradigm from starving artists to thriving artists?
There are many ways to shift the paradigm, and the first one is to understand where this concept came from. Did you know that it is a fairly recent belief, meaning it only showed up in the mid 1800s with the writings of Henri Murger who wrote Scenes of the Bohemian Life, about artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris? Fascinating isn’t it?
The other ways we can support this shift is by investing in our creative makers like we would any other career choice, and purchase items locally made and invest in their work/craft.
Why is it important to support local artists?
When we support local, our neighbors, each other, we become a stronger community. Did you know that when you purchase local 45 – 50% of your purchase stays within your community as opposed to big box chains where on 13 – 18% remains within the community?
What warms your heart?
How do you foster creativity in children?
That is an easy one…avoid putting our own limiting beliefs on what they want to create, by fostering the freedom to be creative. If the child wants to create a purple tree, upside down with an orange cow that has five legs, so be it. That is how they see the world, and it’s beautiful. When we allow a child to have free play and an opportunity to push up against the boundaries of their imagination, who knows what they will create.
I have three children. When my children were little, they had easy access to all creative materials and could be creative at anytime they wished. I have fond memories of EsaBella, my youngest; she may have been around three years old, lying on her stomach in front of the fireplace painting. She had retrieved water, paints, paintbrush and paper on her own, and under my distant observation, started painting…I LOVE that.
What’s the most important decision you ever made?
To believe in myself and what life called me to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times I have doubted myself and my ability, but I reminded myself that I said ‘yes’ to what called me, so I better suck it up and do it.
How do you support your community beyond selling the works of local artists?
We, in the store, are active champions for all the Artists/Makers we carry. We believe in what they do and their courage to be a creative individual. We love to share their stories…it’s about engagement with our Makers, our community and building bridges between the two.
I’m also one of the Directors of my local BIA, the MPBIA – Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association, where my voice as a retailer and an advocate for Artist/Makers can be heard.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles that you’ve overcome – personally and/or professionally?
Personally, self doubt.
Professionally, the rising costs of living in Vancouver, finding the balance between income and expenses, and finding a way to provide an income to my incredible staff so they can survive in Vancouver without needing to work two other jobs. I guess the biggest one is ensuring the support from government for the local entrepreneur. Local entrepreneurs are the lifeforce of any community!
What do we need to know “for sure” about thriving as an artist?
I’ll answer that with one of my favorite quotes:
‘When you buy something from an artist, you’re buying more than an object (or a video, or a book, or a story). You are buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul. A small piece of someone else’s life. Thank you. ~ Rebekah Joy Plett”
What’s the most important lesson you learned from your children?
Oh man…do I have to chose only ONE? My children have been my GREATEST gift, and best Teacher(s). I would not be the person I am today without all the lessons they have taught me. They have taught me patience, laughter, and mostly to be in the moment…maybe that is the most important lesson…to be in the moment more.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
Be who you dream of being and go for it…resist the temptation of other’s limiting beliefs on what you can accomplish and go for it. We only fail if we never try.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
To listen to what is calling them. To live a life that is inspiring to others and to see how we are more similar than different.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
First and foremost, would be my Mom. My Mom (and my Dad) was born and raised in German occupied Holland during WWII. She had a rough time growing up, with many hard lessons, and she remained positive. She (and my Dad) fostered a love for all beauty around us, be it in nature, food, music and how we treat each other…all beauty. My Mom is a compassionate, kind and inspiring woman that has nurtured these traits in myself and my siblings, to live life as large as we allow ourselves to.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I have a 100+ acre ranch where people can come to heal through Art Therapy, Energy Healing, Equine Healing, and/or healing through the art of gardening.
In my original business plan for Bird on a Wire Creations I had envisioned that I would open a store in every major city across Canada…the store is the vehicle for the message of shifting the paradigm.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
The silliness that life can bring to us is what has me laughing uncontrollably. In the photo of Bella and I, I’m not laughing so hard that I’m crying, but you sure can see the joy/laughter on my face. That is one of my favorite photos of our 20+ family trip, we all took this past January.
What has been your biggest disappointment/triumph?
The biggest triumph was the moment I chose to believe in myself and go after my dreams/goals I have. I have learned that there is no dream too big for me to go after. When I owned my first retail space (a paint-your-own ceramics studio called ‘Paintin’ Place – The Alternative Studio), the EDO (Economic Development Officer) of Squamish bought me a small piece of art and on it said. “Man who says it cannot be done should not interrupt Woman doing”.
If a sculpture were created to represent your life, what would this masterpiece be called?
Love in Motion.
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