Pinot and Picassos: Guests gather to slather at new paint-and-sip studio

Acrylics meet the canvas at Artful Escapes in Fitchburg, a new creative space where artists and non-artists alike can channel their inner Van Gogh under the expert eye of trained professionals. “We want people to have fun,” said Arlene Welcher, who co-owns the studio with her daughter, Robin. After one class, attendees leave with the painting they created and, hopefully, a new appreciation for the arts.

The paint-and-sip concept has been popular across the country, according to Welcher, just not in this area. Customers sign up online for a class, at $35 per session, based on the painting they want to reproduce. 

It could be a Monet, a locally produced piece, or even a painting of one’s pet. Then again, it may not even matter, because this is clearly a fun option for business team building, first dates, or girls’ (and guys’) nights out. Artistic ability is not a prerequisite.

All supplies — canvas, paints, brushes, and aprons — are included in the price. Attendees can purchase a glass of wine or enjoy a beer to get their creative juices flowing. Non-alcoholic beverages are also available. “Drinking is not the focus,” noted Welcher. “This is about relaxing, socializing, drinking if you want to, and leaving with a renewed [artistic] confidence.”

The Welchers originally hoped to open in Madison, but getting a liquor license proved challenging. After being “flatly refused” by City Hall, they contacted alders and the police chief and were advised to get a legal team involved. When things didn’t progress as they had hoped, they changed real estate agents.

The new agent showed them a space a few doors down from The Great Dane in Fitchburg, where things progressed more smoothly. Their initial liquor license cost a hefty and unexpected $10,000, but after 30 days they were able to apply for an economic development grant for $10,000 to invest back into the business. (Madison has a similar program.)

Because Artful Escapes is an entertainment venue, Welcher said it was important to find local artists who would fit the bill as “50% artist and 50% entertainer.” They found three, whose original artwork is displayed on the walls of the 1,900-sq.-ft. space. Each is paid $80 per session to recreate art in class and teach technique in the process. 

The Welchers, neither of whom consider themselves artists, attended the Small Business Development Center’s startup classes, but since opening, they have also learned a lot through trial and error. They admit they greatly underestimated the cost of marketing, for example.

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“We thought we knew what we were doing and thought we could start this up with $10,000,” Welcher laughed. When realism hit, the banks they approached were not interested in lending them money. “You don’t know what you don’t know when you don’t know it. That has become my motto in life.”

Finally, they approached WWBIC for funding support. “They’ve been super!” Welcher exclaimed.

Artful Escapes held its first art class on Nov. 1 and attendance has been growing ever since. Five three-hour classes are held each week, and the business needs about 20 students per class to break even. 

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