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Sophia Charuk is both a vendor and Project Manager for the Uptown Emporium a non-profit sub-organization of the Flin Flon Arts Council. The UE is a physical storefront, an e-commerce site, and a shipping warehouse for crafters and artisans to market their products, based in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

Sophia has been working alongside artists for a good portion of their life. Watching artists use their meticulous skills to create beauty out of chaos, realizing goals as they worked through challenges. Sophia found the energy infectious and was lucky enough to spend their early days volunteering and connecting to individuals through the magic of art, witnessing the vast human potential throughout a universe of mediums. This fascination with unique things and the imaginative individuals who create them, led Sophia to their involvement in developing an online collective shop, which ultimately led to their part in the development of the Uptown Emporium.

As an artist living in the resource rich northern area, Sophia spends most of their summers foraging for materials and upcycling materials for creative projects. Getting involved in community events, spending time connecting with individuals to collaborate on community-based projects, participating in learning clubs, and teaching to maintain or expand their abilities in different mediums. “I work with my hands, primarily working in sculpting mediums through; pattern making, textiles, soap, wood and clay. I love to mix unusual features with functional approaches when creating visual arts.”

Sophia first connected to Creative Manitoba in March of 2021 to help the Uptown Emporium gather funding for the vendor portal development of the Uptown Emporium through the Flin Flon Arts Council. “Creative Manitoba has helped provide valuable information towards finding the appropriate methods of securing more opportunities for northern makers by helping us connect with valuable organizations who are strongly aligned with the Uptown Emporium’s mission. The mentorship, guidance, and connections the Uptown Emporium has received from Thom Sparling, Director of Creative Manitoba, have been especially profound. Creative Manitoba was one of the first organizations the Uptown emporium partnered with who truly understood and supported the mission of this platform: connect the north to the world and expand economic opportunities to creative individuals in northern Manitoba.”

Sophia specifically mentioned how the support and connections gained through Creative Manitoba have helped the Uptown Emporium secure funding through a variety of grants to develop the digital platform and develop relationships with organizations such as Prairies Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts. “Creative Manitoba’s professional development programs keep a diverse and widespread community close together by helping makers upscale their business opportunities. That is something I am personally passionate about seeing. It is lovely to see how programs like what Creative Manitoba offers are imperative for developing business literacy for individuals in this changing marketplace. Continuing these programs provides up-to-date insight on how the markets are evolving and is valuable for creative individuals hoping to thrive in their careers.”

Sophia’s goals are to continue to find innovative ways to highlight the world-class artists of the north. “I want to focus on their stories and connect them with customers who fall deeply in love with their work without asking them to sacrifice their labour. It is important that artists can count on the UE platform to provide them with opportunities to expand their reach in various forms and benefit from a larger community supporting their endeavours.”

As a person whose life seems to revolve around the support and promotion of artists and peers, I asked Sophia, “What brings you joy?” “My joy would not be complete without my family. They have supported me throughout this process and my development as an individual. Their support helps me find strength in the most critical times, and the knowledge they let me draw upon helps me discover whom I want to be and how I want to create.” Sophia describes their happiest moments immersing themselves in a creative environment with some tea, big open windows facing the water and the wild, looking to nature to explore new avenues of inspiration. And I have no doubt that Sophia will find that inspiration wherever they are.

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