Inniskillin Changemaker: Patrick Hunter
“Entrepreneurs can stay in their lane, but we can also look around and lift each other up. Don’t be afraid – it’s not a competition, it’s not a race. We’re all in this together.”
In partnership with Inniskillin, Canada’s first estate winery, Startup Canada is celebrating and spotlighting leading entrepreneurial changemakers and disruptors across Canada. Startup Canada was pleased to sit down with Patrick Hunter, Founder of Patrick Hunter Art & Design to learn about their journey and the impact of their work.
Patrick Hunter is a two spirit, Ojibwe, Woodland artist from Red Lake, Ontario. Patrick paints what he sees through a spiritual lens which is inspired by his homeland and growing up seeing the original works of Woodland painter Norval Morrisseau.
Creating has always been his passion and the focus of his life from an early age. In 2014, “Patrick Hunter Art & Design” was launched, with the intent to create an awareness of Indigenous iconography through artwork that makes people feel good.
Patrick began his business through selling acrylic on canvas paintings, but in recent years, a small clothing and housewares line has been born and sold to people around the world. Strategic partnerships with promotional product companies Cotton Candy & STAPLES has helped Patrick reach new audiences in corporate Canada that want to forge new relationships with diverse businesses through Patrick’s artwork.
Hunter still resides in Toronto, but makes regular journeys home to stay inspired, be with family and teach art classes to the next generation of Woodland artists.
SC: In one sentence, what does being an entrepreneurial changemaker mean to you?
PH: It means that people are taking notice of the work that I’m doing – and that’s a pretty amazing feeling because that’s not what I started out to do. I just started out wanting to share my artwork with the world.
SC: Tell us about your entrepreneurial venture(s) – what do you do? What role has it played in your life?
PH: When I started I just was trying to pay the bills with artwork – getting my art on people’s walls, however I could do that, was a success at the time. But now that it is on people’s walls, the intention of my art has changed over the last seven years. It’s now about putting more Indigenous iconography out into public spaces. I grew up seeing Indigenous artwork in all of the public spaces around town, but when you move to different cities, you don’t really see it as much. I think being around Indigenous art, I was able to see myself in the community whereas a lot of Indigenous people that go to larger cities don’t necessarily see themselves reflected. That’s the goal of the business now is to kind of figure out how we can educate non-Indigenous people, but then also make sure Indigenous people feel welcome within those public spaces.
Being an entrepreneur and then also being an artist at the same time – you know, there really isn’t much of a disconnect between those two things anymore. It’s an extension of who I am and I think it has taught me what my potential is. And then with people seeing my work and it resonating with them the way it does, there’s a responsibility and the messaging is important. When I was starting out at twenty-four or twenty-five, that wasn’t the intention. But now there is a responsibility to make sure that the messaging behind my art is good, positive, and educates people in the right way.
SC: What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
PH: You know, having really awful jobs is a great motivator for wanting to do what you’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in art work and people have been buying my paintings since I was in high school – it wasn’t super lucrative, I think I sold my first one for like 75 bucks. But for money I was getting burned alive by fryer grease every day, working in a 100 degree kitchen throughout the summer in Toronto. It’s a thankless job and you don’t make a lot of money so I thought ‘if I don’t have to show up to this part time job, I would have more time to paint – if I take on five or six commissions at once and let them pay biweekly or monthly then at least I could get some money coming in to pay the bills’. So that’s how I got started – just because I couldn’t handle being a cook anymore.
SC: What are you most proud of related to your venture(s)?
PH: Over the last two years, like I said, the intention of my work has changed from just getting it out there to putting it into more public public spaces. Collaborations that I’ve had in the last two years have been really about that and making sure I’m aligning myself with great corporations or big businesses that want to share that message too. I recently got to work with Purolator on these holiday boxes – they asked artists from all over Canada from each province and territory to come up with a design that they would put onto the boxes and then those boxes would be shared all over the world. There was also a little written section where you got to explain what your box was about. I put Indigenous florals on mine because I thought it would be cool to share the culture with people in a beautiful way where it makes some ask questions – like why does this box have all these florals on it and it’s Christmas? But the messaging was that, you know, during the Holidays I always love giving mukluks, moccasins, or beaded mitts and those are the kind of designs that would be on them. That one felt good because it was very public and with Christmas time, it was just a great feel good moment.
I also did an art show with Rogers a couple of years ago, I believe in 2019. So I am a gay, two spirit man and then also Indigenous too so when it was gay pride in Toronto and then also national Indigenous peoples month, they asked if I wanted to show in their new gallery space that they had in their head office. So I said sure, even though the budget wasn’t very big. Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you need to wait and have patience – what is an opportunity versus what’s a paid project that will be worth my time. I’m totally a person that can recognize an opportunity and this was a great chance to, you know, put it on the CV that I worked with Rogers and it was also my first art show in Toronto. So that went over really well and kind of bled into working on this larger campaign called Orange Shirt Day. That initiative is led by the Orange Shirt Society – basically what they’re trying to do is educate and change the education system curriculum so it reflects that residential schools actually happened. Really just bringing attention to all these systemic issues around – what happened to those students at that school? Why are some Indigenous people the way they are now? So with Rogers, I produced a design and we put it onto orange shirts. Then through their huge media channels – radio, internet, television – I really got to see how that machine works in terms of disseminating information or a story. And it was wild because, you know, they didn’t have to do that – they wanted to. They thought that it was important to try and help change the narrative from struggling people to people that just want to get better. And also educate more Canadians because a lot of people don’t know because the education system doesn’t include it – it’s not as sexy, fun story to tell but it happened. So together we raised over $100,000 for that charity. That one was definitely using my artwork or superpowers to align with a great charity, make a change in the culture, and I think we really did make an impact through that.
The last thing I would say, and the reason why my day is going so fantastic, is because I just recently collaborated with the Chicago Blackhawks. There’s a lot of controversy around their logo because it’s a Chief’s head who was an actual person. So I did the graphics for their land acknowledgement that they’re going to be doing tonight in Chicago at their home opener. It’s going to be broadcasted on television obviously, but then their arena is huge – I think it fits like 77,000 people. Obviously the arena won’t be full because of COVID, but just to have my artwork in that sort of arena on that sort of stage is incredible. And again, the Blackhawks don’t have to do this. They could very easily just be like “okay, people don’t like the logo so let’s change it to a black hawk instead of this person”. And what they became aware of was that this is where erasure starts – that’s getting rid of a story and a narrative about a people and changing it just because people don’t like it. So they really have been going through the process of trying to reconcile 500 years of colonialism. It’s one step along the way to, hopefully, positive change. It’s also cool to be working with the team that’s so national and International in scope. Yeah, that’s the latest one that feels really, really amazing.
SC: Tell us about your biggest hurdle – what was it and how did you persevere through it?
PH: Self doubt and impostor syndrome. It’s also really tough starting out with not a lot of money and not knowing where to begin. When I first started I didn’t know where to get prints made, what the process was, or how big to make them. Not really knowing what you are doing in this field when starting is a big hurdle – it’s a steep learning curve. But having to go through all of that has made me 100% a better person.
Another one was not knowing when to ask for help. I think that was a big problem I had for a lot of years. I just recently hired my assistant and then I also hired an accountant, so I feel a lot happier now knowing that I have some help.
SC: What has your biggest learning been along the way?
PH: My biggest learning has been realizing that asking for help feels good and that you’re not less than if you can’t figure something out. Do what you’re good at and stick to that. That’s the advice I wish I took.
SC: What drives your motivation when things get tough?
PH: I mean, there’s no going back – I haven’t had a job in the last seven years.
But honestly, motivation for me is the pursuit of happiness. This job, like I said earlier, is tough but it really has taught me a lot more than I could have ever learned working for someone else. I think the motivation for me everyday comes down to: how do I make this life the best possible life I can live, be a better person, and be of service to others all while making a good living at it.
SC: Where can people go to learn more about your journey and organization?
SC: What is your ideal vision for Canada’s entrepreneurship community over the next 20 years?
PH: With COVID having claimed thousands and thousands of lives, I think what we’ll see over the next 20 years is a lot more people having side hustles and maybe deciding that holding down a traditional job isn’t for them. I think you’re going to see a lot of people doing their own thing. There’s amazing content creators on social media and that’s interesting to see – more people are getting crafty and they’re great at what they do. So I think you’re going to see a lot of people living their truth and being exactly who they are and being able to be successful at it.
What I think I’ve been able to observe over the last seven years is that people are naturally supportive of each other in beautiful ways. So I think you’re going to see a lot more entrepreneurs on social media. I also think there’s going to be a culture change just in the way that people think about and live their lives. Maybe nine to five doesn’t really work for anyone anymore and that’s ok.
SC: What do you think today’s entrepreneurs should be focused on for a better, brighter future?
PH: Entrepreneurs can stay in their lane, but we can also look around and lift people up as well. For example, there’s a lot of Indigenous artists out there that are in the same field as I am and if there’s a job that I’m not suited for, I’ll totally pass that along. So don’t be afraid – it’s not a competition, it’s not a race. We’re all in this together. Whatever we can do to make it easier on people, we should do that. One part of my website that I’m developing is “how to be an artist” and it outlines things like where to get your prints made, key contacts, what kind of paper to use, and tips for easier shipping. You know, just little things that I didn’t know when I started that could hopefully be of help to someone else. So lift each other up and try to have as much fun as you can along the way.
Are you an avid supporter of Canada’s entrepreneurship community? Share Patrick’s story or showcase your OWN entrepreneurial changemaker across social platforms with the hashtag #CheersToTheChangeMakers!