Vietnamese contemporary art is steadily garnering greater attention worldwide, as the works of Vietnamese artists like Phan Thao Nguyen, Bui Cong Khanh, Luu Tuyen, and Danh Vo are exhibited abroad in major international galleries, expositions, and institutions.
Despite the rising prominence of Vietnamese artists on the global stage, creating art is not something that’s integrated into the everyday lives of Vietnam’s general public. Tipsy Art is looking to change that.
Co-founded by Trang Nguyen and Ngan Bui, Tipsy Art hosts social painting events in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Da Nang. Anyone is welcome to join in on a workshop, regardless of prior painting experience or non-experience. In partnership with SEO-Vietnam, a non-profit organization (NPO) that brings career opportunities and development programs to Vietnamese young talents, we met up with Trang to see how Tipsy Art is inspiring a new mode of artistic expression and creativity amongst workshop participants.
How would you describe Tipsy Art to someone who’s never heard of it before?
You can compare it to karaoke, where you may not be a professional singer but you can still have fun singing. At Tipsy Art, you can have the experience of creating a painting while enjoying your “me” time or quality time spent with friends and loved ones.
Customers sign up for a workshop by buying ticket on our website. On the day of event, customers just need to show up. Everything else is prepared for them. Our instructor gives step-by-step guidance for our customers to follow, so that everyone can create their own painting.
Tipsy Art’s mission is to make people happy and to inspire a new way of living. Material values are not as important as some intangible ones, like life experiences, friendships, spontaneous conversations, and memories. We believe in the power of the arts.
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You were in the United States before starting Tipsy Art. What pulled you back to Vietnam to build a startup?
Actually, it wasn’t my choice. I was having a great time in Boston working at New Markets Advisors, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in innovation. We worked with startup companies and the innovation departments of larger firms.
However, as an international student, I was only on a one-year work visa after graduation. If I wanted to work for more than a year in the US, I had to apply for the H1B visa. The application process for the visa is lottery-based, meaning you’re assigned with a number and the numbers are randomly picked. There were 80,000 visa slots for 220,000 visa applicants, and I guess luck wasn’t on my side.
Returning to Vietnam wasn’t part of my plan, but my motto is to make every unfortunate event or setback the best thing that ever happened. I do believe that any setback is an opportunity for me to explore and challenge myself. When I’m 90 years old and speaking with my grandchildren, I want to be able to say: “Hey, this happened to me and this is how I kicked ass.” Doesn’t that make life much more interesting?
What made you decide to enter the art industry? Did you consider this move a risk?
I’ve always liked anything related to the arts. Writing, live music, dance, painting, film, photography. At the same time, I also knew my academic and career strengths. I like math and intriguing business problems. I like creating new things and inspiring people to like those new things with me. I like analyzing things and finding patterns, while solving problems and building something new.
All of this added together naturally pointed toward creating Tipsy Art. The idea that entering the art industry in Vietnam is a risky move wasn’t something that we let stop us.
My co-founder and I share a lot of values yet we also complement each other, so it’s been working out quite well. Of course, I’m also practical. I make sure that what we’re doing is sustainable and we don’t have to rely on external sources or investors. All in all, I have to try pretty hard to balance my dreamy side and my business side, and I guess Tipsy Art is our nice balance.
What obstacles have Tipsy Art encountered as a start-up?
Participating in the arts is a new concept in Vietnam. We have challenges in educating the market, both professional artists and our customers. Inspiring a new way of living isn’t easy, embracing life experiences as opposed to material values. And in sustaining this habit of participating in the arts we want our customers to weave arts into their daily life rather than just having one-off experiences.
Another challenge is that we don’t have a physical storefront and our only way of promoting Tipsy Art is through online marketing. This is changing soon because we’re building our first Tipsy Art co-working space in District 1, where people can come in either to create or to work. Those are literally the two items on our menu.
I can give you a few words to describe the Tipsy Art co-working space, and I think it’ll say a lot about the Tipsy Art community: artsy, modern, young, professional, authentic, kind, connections, dreamy, millennial, experience, self-reflection, creative, exploring, curious, delightful.
Did you look to work with any mentors while you were starting your business?
One of my mentors, Erik Johnsson, is a board director of SEO-Vietnam, which I participated in as a fellow and where I met many of my mentors. Erik was always there to turn to for advice as I started my business. He still is an important mentor to me as Tipsy Art continues to grow. As a participant in SEO-Vietnam’s Fellowship Program, I gained knowledge and skills that helped me navigate startup culture in Vietnam.
This all ties back to one of SEO-Vietnam’s most valuable resources for me: moral support. As an organization that serves to connect young Vietnamese talents with career opportunities and development programs, SEO-Vietnam continues to be a valuable resource for myself and my brand, even many years after my summer fellowship with the organization.
SEO-Vietnam also helped me build a network. During my time with the community, we met many leaders from a wide variety of industries. SEO-Vietnam is a close-knit group and everyone supports one another. After graduating from the program, the other fellows and I became friends for life. Many have since become successful, and we continue to support one another in any way that we can…whether it be through an introduction or just coming to Tipsy Art’s launch event, the SEO-Vietnam community has been a valuable outlet for me to reach out and connect with people when I first moved to Saigon and knew no one.
Who should we speak with next?
Kelly Wong who’s behind the partnership of Mondelez Kinh Đô. There’s also Patricia Menquez, my current mentor at SEO-Vietnam. She’s the CEO of Starbucks Vietnam, and she really helped to bring Starbucks to Vietnam.