Michelle Tasa is the owner of Artpourings Studio in Calgary, Alberta—a safe space where people can take classes that teach everything from drawing and sewing to simple robotics.
But, Michelle says, “It’s not really about art or making anything. It’s actually about helping kids develop creativity, problem-solving and resilience.”
At Artpourings Studio, students don’t complete identical artworks or follow step-by-step instructions. Instead, they’re encouraged to design their own projects and work through the process of creating them.
“They’re going to come up against difficulties, and that’s where I can step in as a mentor to help them build their skills,” Michelle says. “But the goal is in their perseverance; in learning that they can count on themselves to fix a problem. That is resilience.”
In many ways, Michelle’s approach to education mirrors her entrepreneurial journey.
Once a small-town teacher in Northern Saskatchewan, in 2015 Michelle was made redundant. At the time, her husband was ill, her two kids were seven and nine, and the nearest job 40 minutes away. She says that she explored every option, but instead of the daily commute, decided, “I’m actually going to move to China, because that is going to give us life that I can actually survive in.”
Michelle spent five years living in China with her kids, teaching at international schools. Then, in early 2020 the pandemic struck. Suddenly, she found herself locked down in Shanghai, during which time her husband passed away.
After months enduring grief, trauma and uncertainty, Michelle decided to move back home to Calgary in the summer of 2020.
“That’s when I struggled the most [with my mental health],” she says. After three months in hospital, she was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). By the summer of 2021, she knew she would need to get creative again to provide for her family.
“I knew I couldn’t go back into fulltime teaching, and I didn’t want to go back into that box of the education system … So, I had to stop and figure out something else. For me that’s resilience.”
Two months after opening Artpourings Studio, Michelle came to Rise for a small business loan and mentorship support.
“My Business Advisor helped me to write my business plan,” she says. “It was exactly what I needed, and the loan from Rise literally sustained me and helped me market my business. Also, my mentor is really encouraging … I’ve gotten so much confidence from working with them.”
Michelle says entrepreneurship has been amazing journey that’s allowed her to push into employment while still prioritising her mental health.
That’s her priority for her students too – many of whom are kids experiencing anxiety – and for events, workshops and corporate clients looking to foster creativity and wellbeing.
“I want to be known as a businessperson who has a mental illness because I think the more we are open about it, the less stigma we’re going to have,” she says.
“And that word, resilience—I have absolutely accepted it as mine. I am resilient.”
Congratulations to Michelle Tasa, recipient of the 2022 Dr. Paul Garfinkel Resilience Award.