For every card purchased, a portion goes to the students’ tuition fund.
by Portia Ladrido
The value of the arts has always been hard to convey. Its impact is largely hard to measure, making its importance quite difficult to grasp. In the UK, for instance, the fight for arts funding has been an uphill battle. Earlier this year, it was reported that the arts in England could lose 40m funding per year because of Brexit.
This can also be seen in the United States. A 2017 study examining the support in the arts in the US says that the “US government’s funding for the arts and humanities has always been far below that of many other Western industrialized countries.” Albeit the growing art industry, there is still a substantial number who struggle to practice what they love because of financial constraints.
Denise Troy, an acclaimed choreographer, deemed it necessary to support Americans who wanted to keep creating art through a social enterprise called Wunderkid – an enterprise that sells sustainable art cards created by student artists, where a portion of each purchase goes to the students’ tuition fund.
“Wunderkid was born from my desire to help people discover that they deserve to live out their dreams,” she says. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate as a choreographer that I’ve choreographed films, televisions shows and even choreographed a music video that was nominated for a VMA.”
The wave of opportunities that came her way also brought about a sense of responsibility to pay it forward. “To be so lucky to have lived out my dreams at such an early age made me feel a responsibility to turn my passion for empowerment outwards and help others do the same,” she says.
At the moment, Wunderkid has supported 50 artists – from graffiti artists to fine artists – in the program. These artists create prints, original art, greeting cards, and tea towels. “We develop product ideas and announce contests to our ‘Wunderkids’,” Denise explains. “We provide design guidelines, but encourage them to push themselves creatively and submit anything they’d like. After receiving all of the submissions, our team gathers together to review and accept the strongest designs.”
When one browses through the designs, it looks as though the cards were made by a single person because of how consistent the aesthetic is. Denise says this could be because they encourage their artists to inject a handmade feel into all the cards. “We believe the handmade aesthetic brings a unique warmth to the line,” she says.
The use of sustainable materials is also crucial for Wunderkid as the cards are made using waste by-products of textile manufacturing plants and are accompanied with 100 per cent recycled paper envelopes. Whilst the products of Wunderkid are laudable, Denise says that as a small company, gaining visibility has been the biggest challenge.
“We believe in our product wholeheartedly and feel confident that once consumers know about the work we’re doing, our cards will be highly sought after,” she shares. “We use social media, influencer marketing and other tactics to help increase our presence, but there’s no replacement for time. We learned early on that it’s important to be patient and just stay focused on the goal.”
As the company continues to get their name out there in the world, Denise still finds that the impact they are having on the Wunderkids is the soul of the enterprise. “I relish being able to call a newly accepted Wunderkid and to inform them of the good news. There’s nothing better than being able to tell a young person ‘your dream matters and I believe in you,’ she says.
The company is currently creating their first greeting card catalogue and in the future, Denise says she hopes for the platform to extend beyond the scope of artists. Wunderkid has a number of plans in the pipeline and it still remains to be seen whether or not these plans would propel the Wunderkids to success, but no matter what the future holds, Denise is firm in her resolve to support young people in the arts.
“We believe it’s imperative that young people create and shape the future that they want. As we encourage our artists, we find that they feel empowered and passionate about creating a life on their terms,” she says. “These Wunderkids then ripple positivity, creativity and love into their communities and society as a whole.”
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.