A FEW weeks ago I sat down with artist and designer Andrew Sampson to discuss his
burgeoning career as a creative entrepreneur. It had been quite a few years since I last spoke to him about his work and it was evident that there had been significant developments
in his practice since.
The last time we spoke back in 2008 he was the best graduating student for that year at the E.R. Burrowes School of Art, exhibiting his ceramics and graphic design work at the Umana Yana.
Sampson explained that after completing his studies in 2008 he went on pursue a few courses at Global Technology to supplement the hands-on experience he had gotten at the art school. Shortly after that he began working at a printery in Eccles for a few months before migrating to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a venture he explained was made possible with the help of the
art school and particularly the school’s ceramic tutor Mr. Everly Austin.
Sampson admitted that although his move to the BVI was hectic, he managed to settle in and got to work teaching ceramics to children and adults at Bamboushay Virgin Islands Arts.
“I did it for that year and the next year. Then surprisingly the government stopped sponsoring the art program. After that the company had to transform it into something like a business for us to make money. We ran it for another two years or so. But then because we had to do the program ourselves we had to add certain costs to it.
Parents started to complain. So we broke down the price year after year. Then one year came and the accountant called a small meeting and said, ‘We’ve been looking at the books and this program teaching pottery to people is not making money. So we’ll have to make a decision to cut the program.’ Unfortunately that was done and the program was dropped.”
After the cancellation of the program Sampson transitioned into ceramic pottery production,
sales and marketing for the company. It was around 2014 that he eventually took a break
from the job and came back to Guyana for a few months.
“During that period I was still in the valley of decision as to if I should go back or stay here and teach. Teaching has always been my passion and so has owning my business. I applied to the ministry for a teaching position, the school board secretariat to be exact.
That was an extraordinary experience for me because I applied for the teaching position and at the same time I started receiving correspondence from the company saying they needed me to go back. So I was trying to weigh the scales to see which was better and which one I wanted more. In the long run I took up the offer to go back.
Initially they said I was going to work for three months because our responsibility as a company was to make ceramic light covers for all of the lights on this cruise ship pier. You’re talking about at least 800 lights. It was a big project so I decided to take it and then come back to teach. I went there and it wasn’t as I thought. Things were set back. We had to do another project for Oil Nut Bay
Resort, which lasted about a month and a half. The contract was then extended to four months but I said I would work it out and come back in August.
August came and I was still there working. So I said I would come home in December. December came and I was still there. Eventually it went on to one year and when that year came I knew I had to make a decision. At that time the cruise ship pier was completed and I was back to production work for small clients. So I told myself that I would try to start my dream of having my own business.”
Once again, he moved back to Guyana, this time to invest in building his own small business. He has since been actively expanding his list of clients even as he continues to experiment with new graphic design techniques. While his fine art production has decreased over the years, it has not completely stopped.
He still produces the occasional piece upon request and has entered works in last year’s Guyana Visual Art Competition and Exhibition. For the most part however, his main creative output has included t-shirt printing, screen-printing, heat transfers, sublimation printing and vinyl work, most of which he learned on his own.
“Screen-printing I learned at Burrowes. Heat transfers, sublimation prints and vinyl transfers I learned on my own. I spent a lot of time researching, looking at Youtube videos and learning all of the details.
I remember my days at Burrowes. Ms. Valz would always say, ‘Sampson, don’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none.’ But in my mind I saw myself as a fine artist. Fine arts entail everything. My vision for myself ten years down the line is that I must be an artist that anyone can come to and anything they want in the line of art I must be able to give them. I must be able to fit anywhere. If potential is there why limit yourself to just one or two areas? Why not burst out into your full potential and make yourself marketable?”
When asked about the changes he would make if he had the authority to influence the development of the local creative industry, Sampson emphasized the importance of getting the private sector on board. He noted that hotels and big businesses already have the framework necessary to ensure sustainable careers for local artists, both emerging and established.
“I would also push for us to have a deep-water harbor. I’ve seen what having that can do in other Caribbean countries and I’m speaking from my own experience in the BVI. When you have three cruise ships a day coming in to your country, business is booming. If we had a deep-water harbor and a cruise ship terminal with smaller cruise ships coming in with 1000 or 500 tourists imagine how business would boom.”
His final words of advice for aspiring creative entrepreneurs:
“Have a plan and stick to it. There are lots of avenues where you can access loans and grants, make use of them. There’s IPED, the commercial banks, the Small Business Bureau etc. For me, I was probably a step ahead because I was able to work, save and use that money to invest. For some it might not be that way. If you’re fortunate enough to acquire the funds somehow, focus, have a plan and don’t let anything distract you. Yes you will have obstacles but stick to it and work through it.
My boss’ wife is a prominent lawyer in the BVI who runs a few businesses and while I was there she gave me a lot of advice about business. Her advice to me was ‘Business is never easy. Within the first year or two you’re going to lose a lot. Don’t see that as a deterrent. But a few years later once you’ve marketed yourself right and put yourself in the right position with the right clients, you’re going to make it.’ So that would be my advice to any young artist whether they’re coming out of high school, Burrowes or any other institution.”