My WPG: Tara Davis
My WPG is a monthly series introducing you to awesome Winnipeggers who share our passion for community-building and localism. In our latest post, meet designer/boutique owner/arts advocate Tara Davis.
My story: I was born and raised here. I’m a die-hard Winnipegger now, but as a teenager I really wanted to get out and experience the world. The day after my 19th birthday, I moved to London, England and spent two years there, and that really informed my design sensibility and what “being a grownup” was all about. I dated an architecture student, went to all the museums, the galleries, the design shows, the craft sales, traveled around, all of that. Then, when my Visa ran out, I moved home.
I knew I wanted to do design of some sort, so I did a year at Sturgeon Creek Collegiate’s jewelry arts program, which was amazing, and then I took an art-for-non-majors course at the U of M. My teacher there was Chris Dorosz, and to this day he has no idea how much he impacted my life. Even though I grew up making stuff, I was never an actual artist, and to get into OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) I needed a portfolio. He helped me put that together, and from there I got into OCAD and studied industrial design. I did quite well and had a few opportunities, but by fourth year I decided I didn’t want to do industrial design anymore. I just didn’t want to sit in front of a computer and do CAD (computer-aided design) drawings for garbage cans and picture frames. I was really struggling with that indecision, so I took an intro to photography course, and an intro to fibre course, which changed my life. Back then, we’re talking around 2004, weaving really wasn’t on trend like it is now and I managed to pick up a loom for $300 and began working on that.
Around this time, I also had some major mental health issues. There were a lot of diagnoses floating around, and my family really wanted me closer to home, so I dropped out of school and moved back here during my last year, and eventually I got the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Ever since then, that’s really shaped who I am and impacted my daily life. I’ve really lucked out in that I have an incredible support system and some really good doctors. So once I moved back home, I got on the right medications and things started to get better.
Then I fell into the best thing on earth, which is Artbeat Studio. The Bart family (founders) are just the most amazing people, and I can’t say enough good things about what they’re doing and what they’ve done for me. I walked into their open house, this would’ve been back in 2005, which was super scary for me because I wasn’t leaving the house much then and I didn’t know if I was ready for anything too social. But we walk in and there’s this loom, this gorgeous loom, and my mom says, ‘Well Tara, this is pretty serendipitous.’ Ernie (Bart) overheard us and he said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a weaver right now. Why don’t you come over on Monday and try it out?’
From there, things just fell into place. Even though Artbeat is only a six-month program I was there for about two and a half years. My doctors didn’t know if I’d ever work again, but I managed to get on as a studio assistant and through that I really was able to gain myself back. Being able to engage with people, being able to produce art, having structure. So because of all that, I was slowly able to work again and I started part time at a store called the Urban Boutique in Osborne Village. They knew my situation, and I was probably a bit of a challenging employee at times, but because they were so understanding I was able to work more and within a couple of years I was managing the shop. I learned a lot from that, from merchandising to working with people to customer service, and I also started selling some of my own jewelry there and wholesaling my work at other shops.
This is my dad (Claude), the best dad. He sets the moral integrity, generosity, and thoughtfulness bar high, and is constantly reaching out to help others. He knows that my business wasn’t so hopping in the fall due to construction and lack of parking, and he also knows that it’s challenging to get downtown throughout the holiday season. So, this generous man is offering to deliver any goodies from the shop leading up to the holidays as long as you live in winnipeg. Call or email me your selection if you’d like to meet my dad and take him up on his offer.
Fast forward a few years, and I moved to Nelson, BC, where I opened my own shop. I’d started dating someone who I actually knew since I was 12 (laughs), and I moved there to be with him. We’d spent six weeks in India and South East Asia together, and we decided that if we enjoyed traveling together, we’d enjoy living together too. So I moved out to BC, this was in 2010, and I opened the shop. People there in general, and in Nelson in particular, really support local and the business was really successful. The arts community was fantastic, and there’s even an arts school there. But after a while, I realized it just wasn’t for me. I finally asked myself why I kept leaving Winnipeg, when this is really where I wanted to be. So in 2012 I moved back here for good, and the rest is history. I kept the Nelson shop for three years while I was starting the one here, so I had staff there, I had staff here, I went back and forth and pretty much worked nonstop for three years while the shop here got established. Six years later, here we are.
My hood: Osborne Village. I would probably live in The Exchange, but I don’t want to own a vehicle and I want to be near a grocery store. Basically, I’m super picky about food (laughs) so I need to be close to a grocery store and some restaurants that I get takeout from regularly. Also, it’s important for me to be high up and have lots of light, so my building is great for that.
My go-to takeout: It would have to be Stella’s and Burrito Del Rio. At Stella’s I get the Provolone Chicken Sandwich with no provolone (laughs) and no tomato, toasted on multigrain, with either soup, hashbrowns or salad, depending on the day. At BDR, I get the vegetarian burrito but I get it with re-fried beans, which have meat in them (laughs). No corn, no rice, but pretty much everything else. I told you I was weird about food (laughs).
My ideal date night: My boyfriend lives in Calgary, so we don’t have many date nights. Sometimes we watch Netflix together, where we’re on the phone and we watch at the same time. That way we can laugh at the same time or talk about what’s happening. When he’s in town, we usually go to Stella’s, or to Carlos & Murphy’s for wings. We love going for bike rides too.
My guilty pleasure: The little dish of cinnamon candies on Lennard Taylor’s counter (laughs). The sea salt and caramel chocolate cake at Baked Expectations. Or Cake-Ogoly. Those funfetti cookies with the butter cream icing between them?! Those are probably my favourite, actually.
My favourite patio: Probably Peasant Cookery. That’s often where we go for family get-togethers, my birthday, stuff like that. I don’t cook meat at home, but I love their steak so it’s a nice treat.
My favourite coffee shop: I actually don’t drink coffee. If I hang out with a friend we’ll go to McNally Robinson or something. That’s probably the closest thing I do to a coffee date.
My favourite brunch spot: I don’t do that much either, but Clementine for sure. And, of course, Stella’s.
My favourite event: There are way too many to pick just one, but I love First Fridays (in The Exchange). I always try to get help in on First Fridays so I can go around to a few galleries and be at some of the openings. I actually sat on the board for a few years and I think it’s so important to have something like that for the neighbourhood.
My best-kept secret: I’m not that cool (laughs). It’s not a secret at all, but I love the little park behind the Millennium Library. I love the sculpture that has the mist, especially when I’m walking by in summer.
My ideal day off: I don’t get many, though when I do I generally look forward to getting some work done from home. I’ll just put on Netflix and do orders, respond to emails, stuff like that, without having to worry about getting interrupted. I love my work, so it’s not like I look forward to time off. What I do sometimes is I’ll take weeks at a time off, where I’ll travel. I’ll go stay with my mom in Mexico, or last year I went to Kenya and Tanzania for six weeks. So I tend to take these blocks of time off instead of one or two days here and there.
My favourite local band: Lanikai or Begonia. I like both so much. I try to have local playlists on in the shop whenever I can, so I’m always on the lookout for new artists.
My favourite splurge: Honestly, it’s probably my shop. I deal with so many makers who I just love, so every now and then I’ll get some clothing or some jewelry, which is a splurge even at cost. If it’s my birthday, often people will ask what I want and I’ll pick something from the shop. Or when I’m traveling, I love to splurge on local art or jewelry or textiles, stuff that I can’t find here and supports the local artists.
My favourite place to take out of towners: Probably drive out to the Interlake. I actually wouldn’t mind having a shop in Gimli one day. I think that would be really cool.
Best bang for my buck: I really don’t get out much (laughs). I guess Winnipeg-based art, actually. Compared to other cities like Toronto, it’s so affordable here. And we have so many incredible artists.
One place I can’t walk into without buying something: Again, probably my shop (laughs). I love a lot of the stuff I sell, and I always carry way more than I can buy.
My favourite day trip or weekend away: Like I said, I’m really into the Interlake. Like the Matlock Pier. That’s probably one of those best-kept secrets I shouldn’t give away (laughs).
One thing I want everyone to know about Winnipeg: When I lived in Toronto and when I lived in BC, and even when I traveled and met people from around the world, people kind of made fun of Winnipeg. And I think one of the best things about Winnipeg is that those people aren’t here. Growing up here we’re told that it’s not the most happening place, so I find that a lot of us go somewhere else and try to experience other things. But so many of those same people end up back here. And they bring back some of the knowledge and experience they picked up along the way, which makes our city even better.
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