Tech spurs new business model for First Nations art

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THE#BCBIZDAILY
Plus, mines get free power (for now) and Foodee gets cash

Opening doors
A new program using computer technology aims to help First Nations carvers find a larger, more international market for their work. The B.C. Coast Aboriginal Doors Program is the brainchild of Chris Gaston, UBC forestry professor and university liaison at FPInnovations, and Brenda Crabtree, Aboriginal program manager at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The program aims to promote Aboriginal artists and is supported by FP Innovations, a nonprofit that supports scientific research and technology transfer in the Canadian forest industry.

“Aboriginal art is an estimated $2-billion market worldwide, but only for a few select, high-end artists, with galleries making the majority of the money,” said Gaston. “We hope that the training and application of computer-assisted machining technologies will lead to added wealth for the artists and First Nations communities.”

Last summer, 10 artists from indigenous communities across B.C. received four weeks of intensive lessons from master carvers at Emily Carr and at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art in Terrace. They each carved a door panel by hand from local red and yellow cedar.

A typical door panel made by a master carver can sell for $20,000. Gaston is hoping that computer-numerical control technology, or CNC, can allow less-established artists to find a wider market for their work. Commonly used in woodworking, the computer controls a router, which cuts wood into a specific shape and size. Reproductions of the door panels made using this technology could be priced between $2,000 and $5,000, and these could tap into a wider market and result in higher sales figures for the artists.

Hydro help
Bill Bennett, minister of energy and mines, announced details of a plan on Friday to help out B.C.’s struggling mine industry by allowing hydro payment deferrals. “We are in the midst of a challenging time for the sector,” he said at a press conference in Williams Lake. “This will provide some temporary support to help the mines stay open as long as possible, hopefully until commodity prices bounce back.”
 
Under the five-year term of the program, which will be delivered by BC Hydro, companies operating metal and coal mines in B.C. will be able to defer a portion of their BC Hydro electricity payments. The amount any mine will be allowed to defer is capped at the equivalent of up to 75 per cent of its electricity costs over two years of the program. The mines will be required to repay the amounts deferred, plus interest.

Power bill deferral was one of the items in a rescue package that the industry gave to Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett at the end of 2015. B.C. mining companies have recently faced a paralyzing downturn in commodity markets. Since 2011, venture capital for mining exploration has dried up, leading to job losses and stalled projects.
 
Low copper and coal prices have recently put operations at a number of British Columbia mines at risk and some have already been forced to reduce production and employee levels. There are currently eight metal mines and five coal mines operating in the province, employing approximately 7,500 workers. “This offers immediate and meaningful relief to mining companies facing significant power costs during a steep economic downturn,” said Mining Association of B.C. president Karina Brino.

$6-million lunch
A Vancouver-based startup that delivers restaurant lunches to boardrooms has received $6 million in a funding round to nourish its expansion into U.S. cities. Foodee, which employs bow-tied couriers who travel by tricycle or car, launched in Vancouver in 2012 and currently operates in Toronto, Austin, Denver and Philadelphia. With this funding round, which was led by BDC Capital, Foodee is aiming to launch in Atlanta and Minneapolis in March.

Clients place their orders online, choosing from an array of popular restaurants. “We're looking forward to giving our new restaurant partners large, off-peak corporate orders that in many cases double their lunch-time revenue,” said Foodee CEO Ryan Spong.



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