Serena is a true entrepreneur in the heart, body, and soul. The Chichi symbolizes her passion and creativity to put Curaçao on the map worldwide. I look up to Serena because she speaks out her mind and acts from the heart. In this interview, I spoke to Serena about her experience with the Covid-19 outbreak and what she did to keep her company and employees safe. Before COVID-19 Serena’s Art Gallery was very popular among the cruise tourists. Daily busses from different tour operators were lined up for a visit to the gallery. People from all over the world visited the shop in Punda to take home the colorful chichi.
I asked Serena when she knew that the COVID-19 was going to affect Curaçao and how she anticipated: It was Serena’s friend in Germany that warned Serena at the beginning of the year that the virus was spreading quickly in Europe and it would be a matter of time that our island would be affected. At that time nobody on the Island seemed to be worried about a possible pandemic. Serena followed her instinct and started making preparations for an emergency plan with her team already at the beginning of March. They discussed to continue production from home with the material they had. Why the precautions? She explains to me that her husband is not well and is considered a risk patient.
On March 13th, the government announced the first case on Curaçao, and from that moment on everything went very rapidly. On Monday the 14th of March she closed down the shop in Punda, with pain in her heart. The city was still full of tourists, people were in a line in front of the shop to buy a chichi when she had to tell them that the shop was closing but they could still buy a chichi in Sambil. She was one of the first shops that closed, and it was a very emotional moment for her. Also not knowing how long the pandemic would last and how this would affect her business in the short and long term. Even for the always energetic and optimistic Serena, this was a lot to handle, with at that time over 70 freelance painters, 9 sales agents, and 28 permanent employees working for the art factory.
Serena’s main priority was to keep her staff employed and to be able to do that she had to cancel the people that work on-call and people that work via the employment agency. Also, for the painters that work from home, there would be no sales for an indefinite period and would have no income. That was extremely hard for Serena, but she knew that everyone would be safe. Working from home came with some challenges. There was only a limited amount of materials available and how to communicate with the production staff, not everyone has internet at home. With the full lockdown, Serena had no choice to stop the production completely. In the meanwhile Serena was making preparations to open up an online webshop together with CPost and other local souvenir companies.
Together with her Marketing & Sales team, she started with the set-up of their own online shop through Facebook and their website. During the lockdown period Serena regularly posted video messages for her staff to keep them informed during a very insecure period. Once the lockdown was lifted it was time to start up operations again and prepare the Art Factory to operate according to the new normal. Serena the entrepreneur also had renewed energy to now focus on the local market, as the borders were still closed for tourists.