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The Business of Art

  • Brenda Bouw
  • |
  • Sep 5, 2017

Lisa Penny, HBA ’81, is connecting the art world with the business sector

The Business of Art

After a successful career in banking and financial management, Lisa Penny decided it was time to start her own business as a way to help others, while also pursuing a lifelong passion for art.

In 2014, Lisa launched Oakville, Ont.-based ARTS AT WORK, which offers unique handmade gifts by Canadian artists, in particular, glass pieces. Lisa not only sells the work through her online store, mostly to corporations, but also helps her artists develop their own businesses. More recently, ARTS AT WORK commissioned Canadian glass artists to design and create items specifically for this year’s Canada 150 celebrations.

Lisa says her entrepreneurial family history – her late father co-founded a successful supermarket chain in her hometown of Windsor, Ont. and her late mother opened her own picture framing and gift shop – empowered her to eventually start her own company. The creative influence came from her mother, an amateur artist who did charcoal drawings and oil paintings. As a kid, Lisa recalls sitting around the table with her four siblings carving ducks from Ivory soap bars with dull cocktail knives. They took paper tole and decoupage lessons when they were a bit older.

“Art in our home was highly treasured and respected, as were the artists who created it” says Lisa, who today dabbles in painting, sewing, and gourmet cooking. “I’m really passionate about supporting the arts in Canada and helping artists thrive.”

Lisa decided to take the entrepreneurship plunge in her mid-50s, which was about the same age when her mother had opened her own business. After a decade working her way up the ranks at TD Bank in the GTA, Lisa left to become a financial management consultant while raising her son with husband Stuart Penny, HBA ’81. At the end of her last contract in 2013, she took a career pause and decided it was time to do something different.

“For me, the challenge was having a very statistical and numerical type of career when I really enjoy things that are more creative,” Lisa says. ARTS AT WORK is the perfect combination of her skills in business and love of art. “The way I see it, I’m connecting the right brain creativity of Canadian arts to our left brain business sector,” Lisa says.

Lisa also credits her Ivey education for giving her the skills and confidence needed to start and build a business later in her career. “What I learned at Ivey is timeless,” Lisa says. “It’s a lovely validation of career options later in life. It’s wonderful to be a businesswoman at this stage.”


Photo: Nation Wong
Art Direction: Greg Salmela, Aegis