McMillan’s Betterful Initiative

H’Art of Ottawa art studio chosen for McMillan’s Betterful initiatives

It’s not too common for businesses to give away their services for free, but maybe it should happen more often; that’s what H’Art of Ottawa’s executive director Lin Rowsell thinks. H’Art is a longstanding artist’s studio that fosters the creative processes of adults with developmental disabilities. They support just under 50 artists who come to the studio weekly to work on their paintings and their creative writing.

“They’re artists more than they are people with developmental disabilities,” said Rowsell. Thanks to H’Art, these artists have their paintings exhibited and sold in galleries all around Ottawa, and have been showcased in over 70 different art shows over the last 14 years. H’Art also organizes collaborations with local artists, ensuring that its artists have an active role in Ottawa’s creative community.

H’Art is now at a point where they feel the need to adapt to the growth of its organization. That’s why McMillan decided on the H’Art gallery as the chosen charity for their first annual Betterful campaign, an initiative in which the creative B2B agency offers a free and complete rebranding of a local charity in need of a marketing revamp.

“We’re treating this like any big corporate account, with the same processes and same level of resources being expended, except here, no one is getting an invoice,” said Megan Findlay of McMillan.

Findlay said that when the Betterful campaign was first announced, they were expecting maybe four or five organizations to apply, but when they received nearly 30 applications, they were blown away by every single one.

“In choosing between all those amazing choices, the condition was to choose the organization that stands to gain the most from the rebrand. And really, we had no bias when deciding between what kind of charities, so it took a lot of soul-searching, but we were really happy that we decided on H’Art,” said Findlay.

Rowsell explained the impact that H’Art has had on those it helps. She told a story of a 48-year-old man who had been hospitalized, medicated, and who suffered from great anxiety due to his condition. As a last ditch effort to help her son, his mother brought him to the H’Art of Ottawa gallery. At first, he was reticent, not having ever painting before in his life. Now, Rowsell refers to him as her ‘Van Gogh,’ full of passion and talent, and says that his painting has kept him off medication and out of the hospital.

“It transformed his life, it gave him focus and passion, we all need and want that, passion in our lives, and to be doing something we love, it’s pretty powerful when we find that,” said Rowsell. She added that people from such marginalized communities often don’t get the opportunity to explore their passions because of misconceptions about their abilities. Their organization isn’t a program to teach people art, but rather a means to give real artists the opportunity to practice their craft, an opportunity that they most likely wouldn’t be given otherwise.

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So now, with the Betterful campaign focused on H’Art this year, the two parties are involved in what Findlay called the “discovery stage,” where both McMillan and H’Art will figure out exactly how to express who H’Art is, what they do, and how they want to move forward. Rowsell already has some plans. She’s looking to move to a storefront gallery, where the H’Art artists will all be able to showcase their work, and to sell their pieces in Ottawa’s core neighbourhoods.

McMillan argues that branding for a charitable organization is just as important as it is for a business. In having a consistent message, logo, and memorable story to present to the community, a rebranding can create the impact needed to gain more support from community and businesses, which in turn will foster the growth that an organization both needs and deserves.

“It’s validating that McMillan sees us as deserving, and it goes beyond our community. They’re validating that all these people are real artists with that kind of exposure. They’re not doing it out of charity, but they have great respect for our artists because they’re artists too, so its like equals working with equals,” said Rowsell.

By simply lending their expertise to people who do good work, Betterful will provide a change that will last for H’Art of Ottawa, so that they can provide the necessary changes for those that are sometimes forgotten. Rowsell proposed a challenge to other companies, saying that they should follow McMillan’s lead, using Betterful as an example of how to integrate community building into their business.

If you want to follow the progress, check out McMillan’s blog.

If you want to sign up for Betterful next year, go to their website and sign up for updates to know when the next round will open.

Written by: Alexandra Mazur on June 22, 2016.

About H’Art

H’Art of Ottawa is an innovative and inclusive visual arts studio that supports and facilitates the creative practice of artists with intellectual disabilities. The studio’s unique art and literacy program fosters and promotes creative and cultural experiences, collaboration, self-expression, and self-determination. Exhibiting their work through the studio, galleries, and community venues, the artists participate in society in a meaningful way.

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