Name: Dennison Baldwin Smith
Course: MA in Creative Writing, PhD in Creative and Critical Writing
The Baldwin curates dialogue between cultures, nature and art. Representing contemporary artists and specialising in Canadian First Nations art and international environmental art, we curate, procure and consult for museums, cultural institutions, arts organisations and collectors in the UK and abroad.
Recent collaborations or commissions in London include The National Maritime Museum, Canada House, The Horniman Museum, and Origins Festival of First Nations, Blacks Club(Soho) and The Hospital Club (Covent Garden), the government of Taiwan and the Basque government.
Our gallery houses The Baldwin’s collection of First Nations art and hosts exhibitions and interdisciplinary salons, featuring prominent musicians, performers, academics and writers. The home-gallery is open by appointment and for events. The Baldwin was begun in 2016 by novelist and creative director, Dr. Dennison Baldwin Smith, and is co-curated by Oceana Masterman-Smith.
How did UEA Student Enterprise help you?
Finbarr Carter and the Student Enterprise team helped to guide me through the many stages of imagining and creating a business. His practical and inspirational advice and his sheer confidence in me made all the difference in the first year of extremely hard work. The Student Enterprise team also helped to prepare me for my application for the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, carefully vetting my business plan before submission. Since then, Student Enterprise and Santander have provided grant money. And Student Enterprise put The Baldwin’s name forward for UEA's Impact and Innovation Award: we were finalists.
What worries did you have while setting up your business, and how did you overcome them?
The greatest worries involved time, energy and money. Starting a business whilst finishing my PhD was not the wisest move on my part, and there's no doubt I was overworked. Yet it was important to move forward quickly - doors were open and I wanted to walk through. I continue to 'keep calm and carry on' by attempting to take two approaches simultaneously:
- to address one task at a time, and think only of the need at hand
- to revisit the overview, the vision, the short and long-term needs and goals of the entire enterprise daily. This way I stayed on top of everything without letting the thousand-and-one tasks turn into stress.
As to the money, I applied and received grants through Student Enterprise. With regard to my personal investment in my business, I'm constantly reminding myself that you've got to spend it to make it. I'm trying to catch the balance of being thrifty and fully committed to investing in my vision.
What motivates you?
For me the question 'what motivates you' is a little different. It's more 'why does a novelist, in the throes of finishing her fourth book, open an art gallery'? What looks like a curve ball isn't.
Unusually for a novelist, the most important players in my life have often been fine artists. I have taken my inspiration from, and my intentions have been shaped by, the visual arts, even more than the literary. As a mother, I spent many long days in the National Gallery with a baby hitched to my back - because you aren't going to read Crime and Punishment to keep a baby happy. As a young struggling writer, I spent my starving artist years in Cornwall, where my dumpster diving boyfriend provided the food, and I whipped up large dinner parties for other young struggling artists. Some of them are quite successful today, amongst them Tim Shaw RA and Alexandra Roussopoulos, both of whom I have exhibited at The Baldwin. The sense of community forged in those early years continues.
I've always flipped back and forth between the solitude of writing and the collaborative spirit of entrepreneurship. The Baldwin is just the latest manifestation.
Far more unusual is the impact that a Navajo family of shepherds had on my life. Taken into their family and initiated into their customs, I acquired a deep respect for their integrated worldview and it's expression through art. These continue to shape my novels, and now The Baldwin. I consider The Baldwin's commitment to Native North American art a way of giving back.
How do you define success?
We’re fast becoming considered the UK's experts in North American First Nations contemporary art. I’d like to extend that reputation to include environmental art. We’ve had commissions with The Horniman Museum and The National Maritime Museum and we’re in conversation with a number of major European museums regarding large collaborative exhibitions. For me, success isn’t about making a fortune; it’s about making a social and cultural difference, while providing a creative, friendly work space. We’re exposing London to a rich and provocative contemporary and historic art tradition: indigenous North American art, with an environmentally integrated worldview that stands behind it. We’re also bringing exceptional environmental artists and photo journalists from Canada (like co-founder of Greenpeace, Rex Weyler) into meaningful dialogue with their European counterparts.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
In the early days, the most satisfying moment was witnessing the commitment and excitement of my team, the first day we got together around my kitchen table. Now, I’d say the most satisfying moment was bringing to that same table for Thanksgiving dinner the UK's most prominent curators, thinkers and organisers in Native American culture and arts .
What piece of advice would you give to university students who want to become entrepreneurs?
My first answer to that was, 'Do it. And keep breathing.’ My answer now? Don’t be afraid to keep reinventing yourself.