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by Wug Laku, Steve Savage, and Denise Sosbe

Available formats:    Word

Wug Laku

For two weeks in April this year, the owner and lead artist of one of the hottest galleries in Indianapolis, wUG LAKU’S STUDIO & gARAGE, went looking for great art and inspiration in Scotland. Wug Laku traveled to Scotland on a Creative Renewal grant provided by the Arts Council of Indianapolis, funded by the Lily foundation. Returning with hundreds of photographs of the Scottish landscape, Wug seemed to reflect the renewal he hoped for in his travels.

Life, art and business are good these days. Not without trials, but very good. Life has not always been this good. When staff from the Indianapolis Customized Employment project met with Wug for the first time in 2006, he was not in such a good place. As Wug described, he was “nearly homeless”, crazed, depressed, sleeping and drinking too much, and not doing much art. He had no place to work, little outlet for his art, and was dealing with significant depression.

His dream then, as now, was to build a business around his art, work with fellow artists to further develop the art community in Indianapolis, and make great art. He is well on his way to living those dreams. He is getting help with those dreams from his business partner and girlfriend, Nancy Lee, and also from a group of artists who have new studios in the same warehouse where his studio is located. Wug has been deeply involved in helping develop a number of projects to promote the arts in Indianapolis and across the state of Indiana, including the chairmanship of ArtsWORK Indiana, an organization for artists with disabilities. 

In 2006, with his dream as the driving force, Wug sought out and found support from Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation and the Customized Employment Project. Wug then started on the journey to build his business and help develop the local artist community. He located studio space on the fringe of a hip Indianapolis art district, Massachusetts Avenue, and began to create a space that would serve as a home for his art, his community, and his dreams. Wug says, “Having my own space and business to come to every day has given my life a kind of stability I’ve not known before.”  Now one of the hottest galleries in the city, with lots of art seekers and supporters who frequent his business on First Friday art evenings, his gallery/studio has become a destination for artists and art patrons alike.

The Customized Employment Project and the Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Agency supported Wug in a number of ways as he worked to start his gallery.  The Project assisted Wug with funding totaling about $5,000. The funding was used for a computer, business classes at the Business Ownership Initiative (BOI) in Indianapolis, and wood working tools including a table saw, band saw, hand sanders and drill.  It also assisted with an initial rent payment and deposit on his new studio.  Staff from the project met with Wug at his apartment and at the studio to accommodate concerns he had about meeting in office spaces.  They assisted him in developing better ways to communicate and promote his business to others.  They actively encouraged him to pursue his business goals.

The Customized Employment staff also helped facilitate Wug’s relationship with the Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.  VR also encouraged him to attend the classes on small business development he took through the Business Ownership Initiative that Wug found  to be very helpful.  VR assisted him in purchasing a cell phone and internet connection, and it also provided rent support for about 2.5 years as his business developed.  Wug found it difficult sometimes to get VR staff to understand both his art and the business aspects of his art.  He believes that the Customized Employment project staff helped by acting as his liaison and advocate in getting VR to be comfortable with his art, not as a hobby, but as a viable business.

Wug is still working to overcome some challenges in maintaining and growing his art gallery and business.  He still needs a vehicle, which he has not been able to afford yet.  He needs to be able to transport raw materials and his art to shows and to his studio.  Wug has also had to overcoming some of his mental health stresses and issues.  He noted how work has helped with these issues, giving him purpose, a place to be every day and helping him connect with other artists and customers to provide him with more interaction as he gets out into his community

When asked about lesson learned from his experiences in starting a business, Wug says:

  • Don’t take short cut
  • Get help with accounting and the business plans
  • Be involved in your community, both the particular business community and the community at large.

As his example of community involvement, Wug described the connections he made with other artist and artist groups, like the Indiana Arts Commission. He is now on the Steering Committee for the Commission’s strategic planning effort.  His involvement and connections in the community led to many valuable opportunities.

The assistance Wug got from the Customized Employment project gave him the moral support he needed to get his business started. He emphasized how this encouragement was as important in some ways as the funding he got through the Project.  The advocacy from the CE staff working with VR helped keep his business going in the early years. Now through his business, he has been able to help and encourage other artists. His landlord now has more studios filled with Wug’s friends and fellow artists.

The three years of running his business have been a struggle at times. There are still problems including cash flow issues, finding new markets, finding time for making his art, keeping up with requests from aspiring artists, and finding time to work on all the projects. However, he says he is doing pretty well now, breaking even, and the bottom line is improving every year. He is still poor but loves the work, the business and the people he has been able to connect with as a result of the business. The rewards have far outweighed the hassles.  Even though he continues to face some challenge, Wug is ecstatic with the opportunities and options that come to him every day with running his business and creating his art.

You can visit wUG LAKU’S STUDIO & gARAGE online at: