Have you ever seen a soil sample under a scanning electron microscope? Better yet, have you ever seen an abstract art piece based on what that soil sample looks like?
That’s what art major Abby Kuchar is interested in these days. Kuchar is a Fairhaven student, art major, coordinator with the Associated Students Outback Farm and member of Kindling Collective.
The collective is a group of students and graduates who want to bring their different skills together to create an organization of shared resources and talents. This space combines business skills, innovation and creativity. The Kindling Collective will be officially launched on Thursday Feb. 2, when they become a legally incorporated cooperative. With this comes new horizons for Kuchar, Roberts and the rest of the collective.
Kuchar’s journey as an artist began at a young age, but she never considered it a potential career until college. When she came to Western four years ago, Kuchar hoped to major in something related to the environment. She wasn’t entirely sure what exactly, but she knew she loved being outdoors.
“Being around creative people is contagious and exciting.”
Kuchar’s interest in environmental issues never left. After becoming a Fairhaven student, she found The Outback Farm and quickly became a coordinator.
“This really solidified in my mind this connection between organic systems and that being the art I want to focus on,” Kuchar said.
After becoming frustrated with the limited number of art classes offered to non-majors, Kuchar applied to the art studio major winter quarter of her freshman year.
As she reaches the cusp of graduation, Kuchar’s focus has narrowed to the intersection of abstract art, food systems and the outdoors. With aspirations of being a professional artist, Kuchar found the Kindling Collective. Being part of the collective has provided her with a source of support as she begins a business venture selling her art.
There are numerous resources provided to students at Western that are simply perks of being an enrolled student, Kuchar said. After graduating, these resources disappear and many are left floundering without the support and access they once had as students. Kindling Collective is a way to maintain access to some of these perks after graduating, Kuchar said.
Kuchar is not alone. All Kindling Collective members are involved because they need resources the group has to offer and in turn they can offer some skill or knowledge to the others.
Western alumnus Ryan Roberts is also a member of Kindling Collective.
“The Kindling Collective was born out of necessity,” Roberts said.
After graduating, Roberts realized he had to make a choice. “Live your dream or be a part of someone else’s,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ passion is mountain biking and his business, Flow Motion Trail Tours, is part of the collective. Flow Motion Trail Tours is a company that takes people on mountain biking tours in the surrounding wilderness near Bellingham. Students ride for free and others can pay for group or individual tours.
With his degree, Roberts felt pressured to take a job with a larger company that wasn’t making the change he wanted to see. With the entrepreneurship minor from the IDEA Institute at Western, Roberts felt he was provided the opportunity and the skills to create his own company that matches his values and interests.
Kuchar, Roberts and the rest of the collective have agreed to share resources to foster growth in each of their individual projects, as well as their shared collective.
“It’s really exciting,” Kuchar said. “It’s really a great atmosphere to be around.”
Other than concrete resources, the collective provides members with a support network of people holding them accountable to get their work done. Kuchar works better when there are people around checking in on her progress.
“Being around creative people is contagious and exciting,” Kuchar said.
Kuchar recognizes the importance of the business skills necessary to be a professional artist, but knows this is not one of her skill sets. She hopes that the collective will help support the business end of her career as she continues to develop her art skills, she said.
The collective has a partnership with the IDEA Institute at Western. The director of the Institute, Art Sherwood, said the group’s work is focused on entrepreneurship and innovation in and outside of the classroom.
The Institute sets up the curriculum for the entrepreneurship minor. It is also home to the IDEA Lab, a workspace for ideation and testing concepts in the real world. The first set of graduates from the minor graduated in December 2016.
“The IDEA Institute is a very special snowflake,” Roberts said. “There isn’t anything else like it in the United States.”
What makes the IDEA Institute different is the emphasis on the importance of empathy in business said Roberts. This means taking ideas out into the real world and seeing if they work with real human interaction. This has taken learning outside of the classroom. The Kindling Collective was born out of this style of entrepreneurship.