External Relations - Shana Wilson
Updated: Mar 9
Written by: Melania Antoszko
As seen in the January 2020 issue of Lazy Faire magazine.
Shana Wilson’s career has been anything but boring. She graduated with her Bachelors of Commerce in marketing and since then worked in a variety of industries including advertising, telecommunications, construction and design, retail and most recently producing a Hollywood movie. But in the background of all of that, she was slowly mastering her painting. Just 4 years ago she decided to leave her business career, for a career in the fine arts. Not only is she a successful painter, but also an advocate for feminism and equality, starting the movement Women Who Roar. Read more about Shana’s advice for students on finding your passion, how to stand up for yourself and her thoughts on women in business. Enjoy!
Tell me about your career. Let’s start with your first job out of university.
I worked for a while in a small startup company. It was a telecommunications company and they had the first caller ID telephones, and I was their marketing person. Then I worked for an ad agency for a couple of years, which was a really good experience in terms of seeing the design side of marketing.
So, from there I went and worked with, a software company for three and a half, four years. Then I had my first. My husband and I both had really challenging jobs, we were traveling, and it was just too much. Something had to give. So, I decided to focus on being a mom and just doing things that I could from home. My girlfriend was an architect, and together we built a design company where we would do commercial and residential renovations. I started falling into the interior design. I also ran the business side of it and did the sales and marketing.
While all this was going on, I recognized that I wanted to learn to paint. It was always something I wanted to do. So, I went to a school in Edmonton for four years, part-time where I just made a point of seeking out artists whose work I loved. I would travel to go do workshops with them or if they happened to be coming through Edmonton. I would do lots of workshops and kept painting and painting. Always painting in the background. Then my girlfriend who I started the design company with, moved. Her husband got transferred to Boston.
So, we'd closed that, and I decided to secure the Canadian rights to Mandarina Duck, which is an Italian, entry-level luxury brand for handbags and luggage, and built their first North American store. I ran that and continued to paint a little bit in the background. I had a gallery in California for about eight years. Then I decided to make a movie. I’ve finished the movie three years ago and sold the distribution rights and I said, “that's it.”
I'm done with businesses. I want to focus on painting. I have a lot I want to say, and I've learned so much through my business experiences. I've been marginalized. I've been harassed, I've been taken for granted. I've had so many negative things in my business career. As I'm getting older, I'm getting stronger, I'm getting more opinionated and I'm just less scared.
And so, it's time. I want to speak on canvas. I have a lot I want to say. And the time is right. It needs to be heard and it needs to be a female artist but gets the word out there and it's right for me personally too.
Tell me more about producing your movie.
Like who even thinks of that? [laughs]
How did that even start?
I think because I was kind of looking around at what kind of business I might want to start in Alberta. I was really intrigued by the fact that there's quite a big movie industry in Alberta because we've got like amazing topography for prairies and the mountains for shooting outdoor scenes. We've got really talented crew and all sorts of stuff here. The more research I did, the more I realized that there were lots of movies made here and they employ all the people here, but when the movie is done, and they pack up and leave. The ownership sits with the big US companies, the production companies and studios that are making them.
And the real money is in the ownership, right?
Sure. Giving people jobs, that's great. It's a bandaid. It's a temporary fix. But until we own our own movie industry and own the movies, we can't really grow it up past just always being contracted. So I thought, well, you know what, I want to make the biggest movie ever made in Alberta and owned by an Albertan. So, I did it. And it was hard. That was crazy hard.
What advice to students would you give on finding your passion?
Try lots of things. Don't be scared in your early years too, oh my gosh, I have to get a career. I have to climb that corporate ladder. Life is long. At 53, I have had a ton of different careers and you need to recognize that at 45 or 50, you might start a whole new career. So, delve a little bit, try a few different things, you know.
What was the most valuable skill that you learnt in your career?
Oh, I'll tell you what I didn't learn, which I think is even more valuable.
I wish I had learned sooner to be stronger, to advocate more for myself. I wish I'd learned a stronger voice sooner just to say no to other people, no that's your job. You do that. That was a long, long time coming. I wish I'd learned that at 30.
What’s your advice for students in learning to stand up for themselves?
You know, I know it's just something you have to practice every single day. Like even as small as if you're in a restaurant and your food comes and it's not quite right to say, Oh, you know, excuse me, actually, this isn't what I ordered. This isn't right.I think the other thing too is recognizing that you can still be a nice and good person but be strong. Instead of always having to accommodate, you can be a very nice and good person but still say to the people around the table, “I disagree with what you're saying and here's why. Maybe you can convince me of yours [idea], but I really think you should listen to me.” Just and have something to say also. You’ve got to just be fearless and confident. It's such a valuable skill. It'll make a huge difference in your life in terms of managing stress, managing people around you. It's a life-changer.
Can you tell me more about Women Who Roar?
At this age and stage in my life, I want to make a difference. I want to try and make a difference in particular for women and all women inclusive of gender, sexual preference, religion, color, nationality like it's just time. And I think I've got a lot of experience behind me that I can speak to what I have faced personally and I've seen other women face. I have a lot of emotions that I want to, get out of me using my paintbrush.
I hope in this age of social media; a picture says a thousand words. So, a picture can very quickly convey what someone might not have the time to read the full article to absorb. And it can also be seen if it happens to go viral or if it gets posted. A picture has the opportunity to reach a lot of people in a very short amount of time. I think that that's what I want my messages, my paintings to show.
I'm tired of the fact that when you go to museums and galleries and the paintings, the walls are whitewashed. We are a whole lot of other colors in this world, and we need to celebrate or respect them. I've tried to encourage other artists to paint beyond what they see in the mirror and let's make a difference.
In terms of the business community here, what do you think we can do to promote equality for men and women in the working world?
A lot of companies have affirmative action programs in terms of hiring, which is great. It's the medium and small businesses that need to up their game. I think because they don't have investors since they're not public companies.
Honestly what it all comes down to is because women are the ones that have to bear children. I can remember doing my job interviews in my twenties and thirties, and I always took my wedding ring off my job interviews because if they saw me with a wedding ring, they knew I would be probably having kids at some point. I hate that I had to do that. It's just not right. But I had to do that because otherwise, you're, you're stereotyped right then and there. So, until childcare [is available], until pregnancy becomes something revered and that businesses of all sizes go, “oh, you're pregnant. Amazing. We're here to help you and I want you to have the baby,” it's hard for men and women to be on the same playing ground. And so, until the world embraces that side of women, it's really hard to have an even playing field.
There needs to be, and not just in government, not just in big businesses, rules that say “no, you have to treat her the same way that you're treating everyone else,” or “no, she needs a break actually right now because she's carrying 70 or 60 extra pounds”, “she has to pee every half an hour. She hasn't slept for three months because she's been pregnant”.
It's a tough one. I don't know. I don't have an answer other than I just think people need to do a better job of understanding.
Do you believe in new year’s resolutions? And if so, what is your new year’s resolution?
I think if it helps someone make a change in their life that's needed, it's a good thing. I don't think I've ever really made new year's resolutions because I'm constantly pushing myself 365 days a year anyway. So generally, the act of making a resolution is to push yourself to do something. And I have a tendency to push myself to do things. I think my resolution if I was to have one, would be to continue to lead the rest of my life in balance. Balance would be my word for new year's resolution for this year and all years forward.