An unconventional business model pays off for couple


  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 Feb 2014

King says most of Art Duet's students are adults with successful careers.

THE LIVES of lives of King Ban Hui, 37, and his wife Jamie Ong Yuen Kwan, 35, are are tightly intertwined with creativity.

King is an artist whose watercolour and sketch works were featured in the local movie, The Journey, which recently hit cinemas.

His wife Jamie is a freelance writer whose strong suit is making music. She has had many of her works published since her high school days.

To gain more time to pursue their passion for creativity and art, the two quit their regular jobs, opting to work from home instead.

However, when a home and a workplace become one and the same, it is no different from simply staying at home.

Fate smiled on them one day when King received teaching requests.

His friends had wanted to learn how to draw, and what started as a small group of people became a class full.

Eventually, their home could no longer accommodate all the students and their idea to build a new space finally materialised.

“We needed to separate our working lives from the place we call our home, so we acquired a space that could be both our workshops as well as a place where students come to learn about art,” said the couple.

Together, King and Ong started the creative classroom — Art Duet.

Art Duet puts a strong emphasis on the concepts of ‘sensibility, imagination, and creativity’.

It is a place that aims to steer students into discovering their individual preferences in their own ways through a bout of self-exploration, from which they will be able to develop their own creative path.

“In piano terminology, a duet is a composition meant for two people to play,” said Ong about naming the place.

“King engages in writing and drawing whereas I undertake writing and music composition; although they are two different forms of creativity, it can also come together to be ‘performed’ like a duet.”

Ong also stated that creativity cannot dwell within a closed environment, it needs to connect with the world.

“When I was working from home, I took care of work simply through email, eliminating any need to interact with people and the outside world, it feels like I was in a state of isolation.”

Even though a two-person world would suffice, King and Ong both feel that there may yet be many things they could introduce and add into their lives.

Through the creative classroom, the couple find that they can communicate with students and experience a lifestyle that was “out of the box”, thus gaining more insights and expanding their horizons.

“Art Duet was established in August last year. It has barely reached the half year mark but some of our students have already been with us for more than a year, since the start of our class at home,” said King.

He added that most of his students are adults, and they only attend classes after work.

“Our students come to us because they really wanted to learn out of pure interest, so I don’t teach by ‘spoon-feeding’ them.”

At the beginner level, King teaches students basic skills.

When their skills reaches a certain level, students are free to follow what they like best, and continue in the direction they are most interested in.

“You can’t teach someone how to be creative, and you can’t bequeath someone with skills and make that person an artist. What I can do, is guide.”

King states that creativity is a very personal matter. At the same time, it is a process of self-discovery that one can articulate through drawing or written work.

As such, he hopes that each of his students will be individualistic at best that they may express themselves with their work, and create their own distinct form of creativity.

“Most of my students are around 30 years of age, most of their careers have already took off. Now that their lifestyle is stable, they are looking to pursue things they weren’t able to before,” said King.

King also described the classroom atmosphere to be very relaxed and not at all restrained.

“It’s not all about learning an extra skill, it’s simply to blow off steam with a stress-relieving pastime.”

Currently, the main course offered at Art Duet is drawing, but they are slowly looking into music and writing programmes.

“Art Duet is not just a drawing class, there will be more creative courses to come,” King added, saying that the place is a platform for creativity of all sorts.

On top of connecting with the world, setting up Art Duet was King and Ong’s way of finding balance between life and creativity.

“Creativity and time contradicts with one another. When you’re busy working, you can’t possibly expect to have the time to be creative; and on the other hand, you can’t really make a living if you’re spending all your time just being creative, can you?”

They both reached the same consensus, which is not to offer too many courses incase there were not enough time for their own creativity projects.

However, Art Duet must be profitable in order for them to make a living. Thus for the couple, there will always be an incessant link between real life and a life of creativity.

“I don’t want to return to a hectic lifestyle, it wipes out any space and willpower to be creative. So I decided to be an entrepreneur, to see if I could find an ideal way of life, one that draws a balance of both,” said King.

Ong also said she did not want a life that revolved around rushing for deadlines, where creativity is hampered by constant anxiety.

“Teaching is quite strenuous at first, but preparing for the syllabus made me learn even more, and I’m completely happy and comfortable being back in realm of music.”

Professionalism comes first for the husband-wife partnership . The couple admit that bickering is part and parcel to setting up the business.

“Though we complement each other, we have our own dispositions. I stress efficiency, yet King takes a leisurely manner,” explained Ong.

“We’ve been together for a long time, and we’ve found a way to adapt to each other, but since we became business partners, naturally, the friction increases.”

The couple explained the importance of good coordination when it comes to partnerships like theirs.

King focuses on designing course outlines, while Ong handles administrative issues and matters with external parties.

“We delegate responsibilities among ourselves based on what we’re good at, but because we only have one pair of hands, there are times when we will support one another to ease our work load,” said Ong.

Though it is a husband and wife partnership, the couple remains that they grip work matters professionally for their business.

“When it comes to our business, I can’t be biased just because she’s my wife, we know how to assume our roles at this point, we are partners at work,” noted King.

Fortunately for the couple, their business partnership is all the more sturdy for the trust they have built as husband and wife; at the very least, they do not fuss over financial matters.

“Art Duet is not run by a conventional business module, hence not everyone is accepting towards it. If an external party joins the partnership, they may not be agreeable to the same concept,” King further explained.

“That is why there are advantages to a husband-wife partnership, in addition to trust, we clearly understand why we want to make this business work, together.”

Get your copy of Red Tomato, the country’s first free Chinese weekly, every Friday at most RapidKL LRT and Monorail stations, as well as selected convenience stores and shopping centres nationwide.

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