Marie Saint-Cyr's Brentwood-based company, Saint-Cyr Art Studio, created this mural...

Marie Saint-Cyr's Brentwood-based company, Saint-Cyr Art Studio, created this mural at Queens' Russell Sage Junior High School. Credit: Ed Quinn

Marie E. Saint-Cyr is proof that artists can pursue their creative potential and still make a decent living.

Saint-Cyr, 27, opened a mural design and painting business, Saint-Cyr Art Studio LLC, in January 2020. Since then, the Brentwood-based firm has completed nearly 90 murals in public schools, government and corporate offices, health care centers and public spaces.

The business has gone from annual revenue of $50,000 in 2020 to $912,000 last year, and from one employee to eight, she said.

AT A GLANCE

Saint-Cyr Art Studio Inc., Brentwood

What they do: Design and paint murals for public schools, corporate offices, health care centers and public spaces

Leadership: Marie E. Saint-Cyr, founder and CEO, and her sister, Pierrelande Saint-Cyr, chief financial officer and chief operating officer

2022 Sales: $912,000

Employees: 8

Founded: January 2020

That growth, coupled with Saint-Cyr’s use of art to bring communities together, led to her winning the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for New York State’s 14 downstate counties, said Marlene Cintron, administrator of SBA’s Region II, which includes Long Island.

"At a time when there is so much division, [Saint-Cyr's] art encourages others to come together through art and culture for the greater good," Cintron said.

Saint-Cyr discussed growing up in Haiti, attending Westbury High School and the Fashion Institute of Technology, and her plans to eventually operate three businesses. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What led you to start your business?

I did not like the starving artist stereotype. I wanted to build something to inspire and show other creatives how valuable creativity is, how important it is for creatives to be business-savvy. I am also someone whose mind works better when I have a lot of challenges to solve.

Q: How did growing up in Haiti influence your desire to be an entrepreneur?

I remember around 6 or 7 years old that I had a job selling black plastic bags to shoppers at the market, where hundreds of local vendors come together to sell their products. Having a strong work ethic was very important in my family. Starting my own business was almost natural to me.

Q: How did you get your startup funding?

I worked two jobs while going to college full time. I used to work at Staples, Kohl's and a variety of restaurant jobs, which helped me save a few thousand dollars. I used those savings to start the business in my small bedroom [in her parents’ Wyandanch home].

Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing your company now and how are you meeting it?

We’ve received more contracts in [the first half] of 2023 than we did in all of 2022. Keeping up with demand and still providing quality service can be very difficult. We have been working really hard to find the right team of people that can support us as we grow, but still make sure they are rested and able to handle the work. As a small-business owner, it’s important to communicate with staff, ask for their patience and be sure they know how grateful you are for their hard work.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made along the way?

People-pleasing to the point where it had the opposite effect because I didn’t have the capacity to follow through. As a business owner you can’t be a people pleaser. You must find a balance between the needs of your business, the staff and your clients.

Q: How do you get customers?

I have a sales team and a marketing team that do different kinds of strategic outreach. Sales does emails pitching our services and they find events that we can attend to get exposure or potential clients. Marketing focuses on advertising, social media, press and in-person events.

Q: How do you find employees and keep them?

Our employees were either interns or people who reached out to us about working with us. The majority of our freelancers are New York City-based and reach out to us through our website or Indeed postings. In terms of keeping employees, we try to hire people who feel passionate about murals and art. A shared interest in the work that we do helps keep everyone motivated. We try to place people in positions that they genuinely enjoy doing.

Q: What’s the best part about owning a business?

The best part to me is being able to have a positive influence on the people we work with and to leave something behind that can bring a smile to someone's face and impact a community of people. Our work can also give us opportunities to travel, which I love to do!

Q: How many hours do you put in each week?

Sixty hours during the busy season, which is spring and summer.

Q: What advice would you give others about starting a business?

Make use of the multiple free business programs that are out there. In 2021, I participated in 11-plus programs and that’s what really caused my business to grow so much. I participated in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Ascend Long Island [at Hofstra University] and Duplessy Foundation [business management].

Q: What do you hope your business will look like in five years?

My goal is for there to be three businesses all working together to increase access to art education, provide work for artists, and business education for creatives. We also plan to create a nonprofit [organization] to give back.

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