Small Business Lessons: How Sunshine Coast Art Tours unites artists, restaurateurs, brewers and guests

Credit: Sunshine Coast Art Tours. Middle: Douglas Bevans

For our Small Business issue, we asked 14 B.C. businesses how they’re surviving in this economy. Here’s one of them

Around Vancouver, artist Douglas Bevans is perhaps best known for selling bottles of hot dog water for $37.99 to make a statement about absurd marketing claims. In the Burning Man community, he’s known for bringing the legendary five storey-tall, fully interactive Trojan horse to the 2011 festival. And on the B.C. coast in 2023, he’s building a different kind of legacy: the art tour.

Besides his large-scale art projects and striking social commentary, Bevans had nearly two decades of tour operating experience before founding Roberts Creek-based Sunshine Coast Art Tours in 2019. The area has one of the largest concentrations of artists per capita in Canada: “I recognized a hub of creativity,” says Bevans—and all it took was a quick shuttle to connect one to another.

Tour participants meet the artists, learn about their processes and get a behind-the- scenes experience of the work: it feels intimate and exclusive, but not stuffy.

That said, the odds were against Bevans. Starting a tourism-driven company in a remote, seasonally focused area just before COVID rolls in? Sounds ill-fated. But artists—particularly those who have reached legendary status for wiener water and 30-tonne horses—are resourceful.

“Being a generalist has equated to being a survivalist,” says the tour operator. To keep himself afloat, he expanded to offering shuttle services for wedding parties. He broadened his tours to include brewery visits and partnered with Sunshine Coast Air to incorporate seaplane flights into the itinerary. He created an off-season “Colour Your Winter” tour that focuses specifically on visual and culinary art (the new, buzzy Gibsons restaurant Brassica was quick to get on board).

While Bevans’s company is itself a small business, it connects a rich community of others: ceramicists, painters, woodworkers, sculptors, chefs, brewers, pilots. “Sometimes you cross your fingers and hope you’re going to make some money, and sometimes you just contribute to the vibrancy of the community,” he says.

He explains that the tourism giants are now using the piles of marketing money they saved during COVID, making it tougher for smaller tourism companies to survive. Add to that the looming repayment of Regional Relief and Recovery Fund loans (the federal government’s financial aid during the pandemic), and it’s going to be a tough way forward. “I think when the fund was first granted, we all had a shorter timeline in mind,” he says. “But three years in, a lot of businesses are still very much in recovery mode.”

The road ahead looks bumpy, but it’s best challenged as a community—in a brightly coloured shuttle bus, perhaps. “It feels good to highlight the art and creativity that is happening here on the Sunshine Coast…my passion is very much on my sleeve,” says Bevans.

Pit Stops

Offerings from Sunshine Coast Art Tours vary, but here are a few highlights for your vacation itinerary.

Juan Carlos Fernandez, Roberts Creek

Fernandez is a 3D artist originally from Caracas, Venezuela, and his mesmerizing wood sculptures and carpentry work have a unique tactile quality.

Sunday Cider, Gibsons

The outdoor cider bar and (dog-friendly) picnic area is about as charming as it gets—top it off with elderflower, fresh lemon and honey and you’re good to go.

Beth Hawthorn, Roberts Creek

Beth Hawthorn’s minimalist, wheel-thrown ceramics are soothing and functional: she’s firing up beautiful bowls, mugs, vases and more from her home studio.

Persephone Brewing, Gibsons

Here, crack a beer on the farm where the hops first hopped. Along with the brewery, Persephone has apple trees, market gardens, chickens and an apiary (bee respectful).

Brassica, Gibsons

This restaurant just opened in late 2022, and the fresh, hyper-local offerings have already made it a community fave (the pink scallop Rockefeller with miso butter is a standout, as is the applewood smoked sockeye with fried potato flatbread).

Lori Morris, Sechelt

This painter’s coast-inspired works are colourful and vibrant: here’s where to get that where-did-you-get-that landscape painting.

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