Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven business owners and ecopreneurs from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.
Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!
Today’s guest is Kristine Buenavista from Artivism Iloilo.
Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and what you did before starting your own business?
My childhood was spent in a farming community without electricity. I grew up in the presence of fruit trees, fireflies, deep wells, and village people who were in touch with the land. I was one of those children who had to walk a bit far to get to school. My grandmother and I made pillows out of doldol pods, and I also had many beautiful memories with playmates climbing trees and observing spiders and other insects.
While studying, I led the Political Science Club and Social Science Club of our university, and was also part of our debating team. I got a degree in Political Science and I was also a youth empowerment fellow for the International Academy of Freedom, Friedrich Naumann Foundation (Germany). I have always been fond of creativity, of stories and storytellers, and at some point, I wrote a lot of poems and felt saved. I spent many years in my 20s working hard and juggling two jobs as a breadwinner.
Though my computer literacy was almost zero then, I landed a web writing job in 2007/2008 and that led me to more than a decade of gigs-taking in the digital creative service industry. I am still currently working with conscious brands and paradigm-shifting organizations from different countries and cultures around the world.
What inspired you to create a purpose driven company and how did you come up with the business idea?
My familial roots are made of farmers, vendors, and labor-oriented people. Despite the harsh realities of poverty, they lived with compassion and community. This has greatly influenced me in keeping purpose at the core of what I commit myself with.
Artivism Iloilo was born from a dream of bringing the elevated consciousness of art in unlikely locations and in the peripheries. After being immersed in the art scene of our city – enjoying art exhibits and poetry readings, I felt a similar yearning with my co-founders Marrz and Lerie – that good art should not just be limited in the usual spaces like galleries, museums, and cafes.
We have envisioned painting murals that speak of sustainability, social justice, and critical thinking. Our tagline is, “we paint walls to break walls.” Imagining that daily people can participate and ask questions about important issues that confront us was a big spark in our humble beginnings.
We honestly did not expect it to become a source of income in the future. As it evolved, we felt it was fair enough to enjoy the balance of purpose and some profit (to get us going).
In your experience, what are the main challenges of starting and running a green business?
As artists and no-business-background people, we have always felt insecure about our lack of knowledge and experience in dealing with the traditional models.
Our model is offbeat – we organize mural and community arts activities and experiences. Every opportunity or client is different and site specific. We have to be adaptive, highly imaginative, and flexible while staying true to the mission of human-centered sustainability.
What is your business mission & purpose and why?
Artivism Iloilo believes in the power of creative disruption through public and community art. We design site-specific art programs and invite people from all walks of life to immerse in the elevated consciousness that art and artists bring. We paint murals, hold thematic performances, design unique contests and presentations, and create information and storytelling kits that appeal to the target audience – whether they are busy urban dwellers, fisherfolk communities, or wet market vendors.
How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?
Our work addresses these issues through imagination, immersive experiences, and play. These issues are very important and serious, and we feel that candid human emotions can help people open up, be curious, be in wonderment and awe, be critical and inquisitive – so they can get into that space of deeper inquiry and moral imagination.
Before this year ends, we are launching Artivism 5.0: all rivers lead to the SEA which aims to address issues surrounding river ecosystem and marine ecosystem degradation. It would focus primarily on raising awareness of how human activities directly affect the river and marine ecosystems. The goal is to raise awareness and encourage individuals and businesses to be more mindful of their activities because all the inputs in land goes to the rivers and to the ocean.
Just recently we made “Your Resolve” made of crowdsourced PET bottles and created a huge abacus-inspired structure inside the local public market to share an idea of our massive single plastic use daily in time of COP26 Summit. This was part of Micro Galleries’ Global Day of Creative Action. In the past, we have done a commissioned mural event for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Iloilo City for the World Wildlife Day. It involved employees, students, educators, and locals – painting a span of walls at the wharf of Buenavista, Guimaras Island.
We have also collaborated with EarthingPH and the locals of Brgy. Santa Filomena in Arevalo District for Artivism 2.0 – Santa Filomena and the Sea, to tackle the harsh impacts of single plastic use in coastal communities.
Furthermore, we had a funded project for Artivism 3.0: Marka Merkado in partnership with the local government unit of Barotac Viejo through which we highlighted the value of the local public market in the time of chain stores and big grocery franchises.
Last year, Artivism 4.0: UnCOVID has also touched marginal environmental and social issues from around the world while Artivism 1.0: Huring-huring was a critical look into the effects of social media in society and the human psyche. We work with artists, small local businesses, and organizations that share purpose-driven missions with us. So, the concept for every event or experience flows through many people and fuels our ever-evolving movement.
Confronting and metabolizing social and environmental issues do not happen in an instant. We hope that through our designed experiences, participants’ senses will create memories, and their memories can lead to positive change and lasting impact.
What are the most common mistakes you see green businesses make?
Gravitating towards the mainstream wave – imitating the current influencer/celebrity trends, and not owning our unique stories out of the fear of being different.
What makes your business unique?
The dynamics behind every mural, every experience is so colorful, energetic, collaborative, and nonlinear. Artivism Iloilo is also a unique intersection of art, active participation, and source of income by doing something you are passionate about. In the past, we could only make money through art by selling a painting, a photograph, or by receiving honorarium from performing. With our unique model, we realized that it is possible to earn dignified income if you are the quirkier type of artist or social innovator.
Is there anything that you do outside of your business that is driven by similar sustainability objectives?
I am grateful for the opportunity of living a daily life that is simple and is closer to the heart of sustainability. I have lived in my hometown for most of my life – it is in the rural area close to seas, rivers, mountains, meadows, and even waterfalls. I try to follow a plant-based diet, minimize single use plastics use, uphold localization, travel frugally, and walk more instead of taking vehicles when not necessary.
In which area of your business are you struggling the most to reduce your environmental impact?
In all honesty, we haven’t been so great with reusing or repurposing the paint cans and containers and the used paint brushes after our mural events. This question has inspired me to solve that issue.
What’s your day-to-day like?
My early mornings mean a lot to me. I wake up before 6-7 AM. For breakfast, I prepare a hot cup of cacao and flaxseed powder drink and steam local root crops like sweet potatoes and taro while tuning in to the sound of tamsi (sunbirds) and maya from the outside. My partner and I cook daily – we take turns in preparing the meals and snacks. I then take a morning aimless walk in nature. On most days, I dedicate 4-5 hours to online work (sitting in front of a laptop) and allot the other hours for our small businesses and personal creative projects while also spending time with family, animals, and nature.
I try to sleep early – 9:30 PM / 10:30 PM.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
I enjoy using my creative mind and sensitive heart in connecting with others and the world with vulnerability and openness. Working with people closely and receiving their curiosity, wonder, and unique thinking improves my relationship with human awareness – complex, contrasting, colorful. It gives me humility to know that whatever decision we make as a small business and an art movement, it does not come solely from our opinions, but from a communion of diverse insights.
A big part of Artivism Iloilo is social experiment. This part is thrilling for me. With no expectations, we set our questions free and design experiences that will enable even the daily people to take part in the overall experience. I have observed myself evolve and grow over the years just by being part of this whole journey. And growth is vital for me.
How do you grow and scale your business, and what are the main growth constraints and opportunities?
Our humble start was powered by crowdfunding. Those experiences taught us that to scale our uncommon type of business, we need to continuously invest in building high quality relationships and connections. In doing so, we have managed to receive commissioned works from both governmental and non-governmental organizations, and from independent appreciators. In the next few months, we’ll be launching our first set of merchandise to sustain the impact of our work.
The way I see it, the main growth constraint for us is the vagueness of our drive to build up our money-making aspects. As artists and social innovators, we need to be more strategic in designing ways to have more income so we can keep our changemaking aspirations.
In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be a successful eco-entrepreneur?
A successful eco-preneur embodies soul and strategy – a great mix of hard and soft skills. Hard skills like design thinking, strategic management and social action planning, digital storytelling (for the current times), and financial literacy. The top soft skills include empathy, communication, adaptability, and discernment.
Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with aspiring or current green business owners?
There is no cookie cutter for the best model. It is alright to make mistakes as you learn and explore what green business model works for you. Let your unique process be your guide. This can help you deepen your ethos and not compromise your authenticity for the sake of profit. When the purpose (why) is clear, everything else falls into place – even if it takes some time.
What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going?
I have to admit, the beauty of the world keeps me going. Feeling anxious or toxic? A dip and swim in the nearby sea changes that for me. Sometimes just watching the natural light from the sky get filtered by the tree branches and leaves before it reaches my eyes eases my aches. And laughter with others. Lots of it.
Kristine Buenavista hopes to continuously catalyze a shift in our culture towards a value system that prioritizes sustainability, diversity, and creativity. She is the Co-founder and Experience Designer of Artivism Iloilo. She also manages their new Artivism Youth Iloilo Community. When not working on projects, Tin finds solace in stalking wild flowers, ferns, moss, and reclaims her wildness through snorkeling, outdoor cooking, and being with children (at heart).
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