October 17, 2011
By Mike Killeen
Lauren Witt came to the College of Saint Benedict four years ago, intending to be an art major.
"It was the ceramics program that drew me here," Witt recalled. "Growing up, art had a big impact on my family and me."
Witt ultimately decided to pursue an individualized major in social entrepreneurship. But the senior from Denver is putting her interest in art to good use these days.
She has started the Student Art Store, which opened Sept. 17 and is located inside the Closet 2 Closet Store, 27 W. Minnesota St., St. Joseph.
The store sells student art - paintings, ceramics, woodwork, handmade cards and candles are currently on sale - on consignment (60 percent goes to the artist, while 40 percent goes to the store). Select products from abroad that are brought to America by student-led ventures are also sold at the store.
Student artists can email Witt with a brief description and photo of their work, as well as the price. If the artwork is accepted, students drop off their work at Saint John's University, and their work will be put in the store at the beginning or middle of the month, as space allows. Priority will be given to current CSB and SJU students, although work will be accepted for those who graduated within the past two years.
Witt leases space from Closet 2 Closet, a non-profit which is sponsored by the St. Joseph Action Group.
"It's another attraction in the store," said Ellen Wahlstrom, publicity coordinator for the Closet 2 Closet Committee. "Basically, we're a thrift store. But yet, we try and have a little more upscale (items) than your regular thrift stores, and this is one aspect that takes it to that level."
"What Lauren has in (the store) is very attractive. As the customers come in, they are drawn to this area because the student art work is displayed so well," Wahlstrom added.
Witt is part of the E-Scholars program through the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. E-Scholars take three semesters of coursework, and then attempt to launch their own business venture.
"Students who knew I was in the E-Scholars program knew that I was starting a venture," Witt said. "Three students came up to me saying, 'Hey, I have an idea for you. You should start a student art store.'
"I just decided to follow that path, and see how far I could take it. It ended up getting to the point where we opened. It's really exciting."
She partnered with the St. Joseph Action Group to open within the thrift shop.
"I never expected to get as much help as I'm getting from Closet 2 Closet and the St. Joseph Action Group," Witt said. "They've been incredible with helping to operate the store and being flexible with opening dates and such. It's gone pretty smoothly so far. I am hoping to get more student artists involved, and am applying for a loan to get some additional funds. Once that happens, we can really push marketing to both students and customers."
"I think it's an excellent idea," Wahlstrom said. "These students, through their programs, have created a lot of wonderful, artistic products. What does one do with them? In the past, I don't know if (students) had an opportunity like this. I think it's a win-win situation for everybody, us included."
Witt sees herself attempting to start another business, after she graduates in May. She says she's learning quite a bit from the Student Art Store.
"I'm finding invaluable hands-on experience with the concepts I'm learning in class," Witt said. "It's one thing to learn about starting an LLC (a limited liability company), and then it's another thing to go meet with a lawyer, get the paperwork drafted and then go set up a bank account and navigate the whole legal, financial and management (puzzle). I'm learning a lot, both through trial and error.
"It's like learning how to start a venture with a safety net."