Artistic Entrepreneurship throughout COVID-19 Instances


Ryan Castelaz, coffee sommelier, Discourse Coffee. Photo by Allison Evans.

In March 2020, social distancing protocols transformed the way we shop, dine, and interact with almost everything. Companies have been forced to make choices: adapt to new COVID-19 protocols to stay open, seek funding to replace lost income, and wait or close.

The tough decisions have become even more difficult for individual or small business owners who typically don’t have a financial professional to advise them. And what about companies with a creative at the top that are more likely to think of being a brand first and a company last?

Photographers, musicians, artists, and woodworkers – even brewers and coffee roasters – have typically started their careers as an artistic activity, with the business side taking second place, even after that passion has become the main source of income.

This has been one of the problems many creative entrepreneurs have faced when choosing the economic downturn. After not viewing their efforts as a business in the traditional sense, they had become less concerned with the business community and networking groups that aim to keep businesses updated with grants and funding opportunities, such as the Door County Economic Development Corporation.

Nevertheless, many creative entrepreneurs have found their way. The advice may have become more cumbersome and often came just in time.

Deanna Clayton, Glass Artist, Deanna Clayton Glass. Submitted.

Deanna Clayton, glass artist

Glass artist Deanna Clayton learned about the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through a chance encounter with her banker at Nicolet – a federal aid program designed to help companies keep their workers busy. After all of her gallery shows and events were canceled due to COVID-19, Clayton called her personal credit banker to investigate her studio’s refinancing and he asked if she had applied for the PPP.

“I didn’t think I could apply because I’m self-employed,” said Clayton. “But he said they had opened it to self-employed people too, and I was now eligible.”

She went to the bench the same day; he helped her through the application process; and she was given the relief that enabled her to stay in business.

Kara Counard, Photographer, Bloom Photography by Kara. Photo by Duy Ho.

Kara Counard, photographer

As part of expanded access to unemployment, another form of relief became available for the self-employed and 1,099 employees for the first time. The photographer Kara Counard, who was initially unaware of her suitability for the PPP money, learned about her new entitlement to unemployment from other individual colleagues in photography via social media. However, she decided not to apply as people had long waiting times.

“I had heard horror stories from people who said they didn’t get any [unemployment] for six or eight weeks, ”she said. “People called every day and it just seemed so difficult.”

Counard applied for a $ 1,000 grant through the “We’re All In” program she heard about from a colleague. The program was funded by the CARES Act, which gave nearly $ 240 million to small businesses in Wisconsin in 2020. The scholarship helped her survive three months of unemployment while restructuring the way she burdened clients to accommodate the new types of weddings that are planned.

“Often [the events] were smaller and sometimes they were less hours than usual, so I used an hourly rate instead of an eight or ten hour daily rate, ”Counard said.

Ryan Castelaz, coffee sommelier, Discourse Coffee. Photo by Allison Evans.

Ryan Castelaz, Discourse Coffee

Another business owner who used We’re All In grants to align their business model with COVID-19 social distancing protocols was Ryan Castelaz, co-owner of Discourse Coffee in Sister Bay – along with his father Steve. Castelaz opted for a We’re All In grant from PPP because it felt too daunting having to repay the loan in the winter when his seasonal store wasn’t open.

The initial business change he made – funded by the first of two We All In grants – was a hotel delivery program in which he hired two drivers to deliver coffee to guests at three local hotels. This idea wasn’t working as well as he’d hoped, so he turned around and turned those drivers into cooks for a new nutrition program.

Discourse Coffee also added merchandise and an assortment of chocolates to make up for the difference in sales that would normally have been made by a customer who was around for hours drinking multiple drinks.

Adapted visions

Money was available to entrepreneurs through PPP, the CARES Act, expanded unemployment benefits and support from local banks. In addition to helping business owners with the PPP application process, Nicolet alone made direct grants of more than $ 500,000 to Door County business owners who were not eligible for PPP.

For many creative entrepreneurs, however, the toughest obstacle has been thinking for yourself and letting go of solid ideas, whether that meant serving the perfect latte in a 64-ounce take-away mug or delivering a five-star roadside meal all in one Carton.

Those who changed their minds gave themselves a powerful tool for survival because so many of the changes they made were not only practical from a business perspective, but also psychologically important. For example, Castelaz had started the discourse with a very special vision that excluded the sale of food in order to preserve the integrity of his coffee program.

Then hit COVID-19. Business survival became more important than artistic intent. They made changes that would save his employees’ jobs and the business. Today Castelaz said the challenges they faced taught him to be nimble, flexible, quick and constantly thinking about his next steps. In the long run, he said it made him a better business owner.

“The companies that could not and did not adapt and change had the hardest time,” he said. “But the companies that have adapted are going to be on the other side of this matter more than ever.”

Small business owners can get information and guidance from Door County Economic Development Corporation ( and UW-Green Bay’s Small Business Development Center ( They provide free business advice and support to anyone going through the PPP loan application process or having general questions about various aspects of their business, finances, and business plans.