The gallery walk continues! We took this cross-country gallery walk because we know that galleries can do a lot for a store. We reached out to owners from all over North America to learn more because we realize that a gallery can be a lot of work. We want to understand the cost and the benefits of as many models as possible in hopes of providing you with a variety of examples of success.
Our road trip leads us to The Junction, a neighborhood in Toronto. We are here to visit ARTiculations, an independently owned and operated community hub offering quality art supplies and services to artists and creative explorers of all ages. In addition to the store, ARTiculations has a studio space for workshops and events as well as a gallery where they exhibit rotating solo and group shows throughout the year. The ARTiculations team comprises the owner, Heather Phillips, plus three part-time staff and a shop dog.
For people who appreciate, make or are curious about art, formative experiences that set them on the creative track for life typically happen in a museum/gallery setting, a learning environment like school or camp, or in an enticing shop. ARTiculations has combined all three creative spaces to reach as many people as possible in the form of an artsy petri dish. We reached out to Heather to learn more.
The studio at ARTiculations is a hub for classes, special events, corporate workshops and various art activations. “We’ve done Pride related-events, Christmas parties, I’ve done an ugly sweater station, we’ve done a mural… I start by talking to the client about their end goal. We have a toolbox of skills and we use our products. For instance, I have an event coming up with a brewery and I put together art kits with instructions. It helps to choose something that runs itself.” In terms of staffing, they will outsource if needed. “I’ll have a second person help me onsite. In addition to our core staff, we also have a roster of 15 artist instructors who facilitate our courses. Also, sometimes our customers offer to facilitate certain events! We are lucky to have a group of volunteers, and a very loyal customer-base; with small businesses, it takes a village.”
The Earl Selkirk Gallery
For Heather’s team, the gallery was a part of the store identity from inception. “It was always going to be a three pronged hub: an art supply store, a gallery and a studio where we teach classes. I know people are always worried about the footprint,” Heather concedes. “But I find that the gallery works like a walking business card. It’s a way of putting your money where your mouth is. Creating an accessible gallery viewing space is a way to support the people we as art supply retailers are trying to represent.” Sometimes walking into a gallery makes people nervous; it’s hard to “get” art under pressure. It can feel like there is a barrier. “We are a welcoming space, a different style of gallery, with art supplies just next door,” Heather points out.
Having staff buy-in is essential. While Heather is still the point person for the gallery, she knows her staff has her back. “Before the store I had a portable art gallery. That being said, all of my staff are artists and have experience hanging work. We bounce ideas off one another to make sure the show is looking the way we want it to. We operate as a cohesive unit: everybody has “drunk the Kool-Aid” so to speak, and we all value the importance of the space. It’s not just about slapping artwork on the wall. We really take care of our artists.”
Rotating Solo & Group Shows
The gallery is a 10’ x 12’ space that is separate from the store. ARTiculations does a combination of solo shows and community based shows rotating every 4 to 6 weeks. There is a strong focus on Toronto-based artists, typically emerging to mid-level artists. Logistics-wise, ARTiculations has a hanging fee for solo shows. “When we first opened, I wanted it to be free, but it’s just not a sustainable model at our current size. We introduced a hanging fee a few years in, $650 for a 4 to 6 week show; that covers vinyl signage, postcards, the time spent creating a newsletter, the hanging and the reception. It’s like a stipend to make sure that we can keep it affordable. We take a 30% commission on all works sold. With galleries you’re typically looking at a 40-50%, but because it’s not our main focus, we take a lower cut.” Heather’s attention to the needs of the community is apparent: “In the summer we actually don’t take a commission at all, it’s not a good slot for artists because everyone goes away in the summer.” In addition to solo shows, ARTiculations hosts a handful of inclusive group shows that typically only require a sign up. Similarly to Pygmalion’s annual show, which always features a Gamblin Custom Color, ARTiculations hosts annual shows with a consistent theme that community members come to look forward to every year. Their Sketchbook show is an excellent example of innovative ideas that stick; an annual event that becomes an integral creative tradition for the community at large.
The Sketchbook Show
The Sketchbook show has gone on for over eight years; over 200 people participate, from ages two to ninety-two.
The concept? The idea is to draw, sketch, paint, whatever in a sketchbook throughout the year, making one creative thing a day. People can pick one page that they are really happy with and the team will bulldog clip it for display, or participants can allow people to flip through the entire book. “People submit from all over the world, I don’t know how they find out about it!” Heather said. Participants typically mail in their sketchbooks; ARTiculations charges a registration fee of $5. “If people pay for something, they are more likely to show up—it’s that kind of fee.”
Above: the ARTiculations sticky note guestbook station; both participants and viewers loved this process as they are able to share the experience!
“We set up the gallery like a library. People love thumbing through the sketchbooks. We usually do a guest book for our exhibitions, but for the sketchbook show we do a post-it guest book where people write notes and stick them directly into the sketchbooks to leave messages for the artists.
The benefit of the show, other than just being really cool? “It feeds into the business. We all like to promote creativity, that’s why we are in the business. The sketchbooks give you a real tactile experience. And the show wraps into our classes because there are so many techniques on display, people are curious. They ask us about specific mediums.”
Interaction is key. “The opening is wonderful: we don’t really publicize it because our store is only 900 square feet. I like to make sure the artists can attend—I open it up to the artists and their families. Most people attending the show are in the show, and they get to see others interacting with their artwork.”
A Delicious Cycle: Gallery, Studio, Store
This concept of a gallery space inspiring people to learn new techniques (take classes) and try new products (shop in the store) is not only a way to build community, it is a crucial strategy for our industry. “Visual art” casts a wide net—making it, or even just looking at it can be overwhelming, inspiring, frustrating, shocking, addictive, emotional, freeing, therapeutic. We can distance ourselves from all that and say, we are the creative materials side of things. We work with the dimensions, the materials, the color charts. But if we are going to thrive, we need to nurture the entire artistic ecosystem, from the products to the education to the experience of looking at, talking about and interpreting art.
Lastly, the connecting threads that tie it all together are the people. Acknowledging all the kinds of people who might populate that ecosystem: the artists who need support and exposure, the curious people who want to interact with artists, maybe become artists themselves. The novices. The hobbyists. The kids. Relationship building in the context of artistic space will lay a foundation for a community to grow from your store, where you can be the central hub. “Our pre-existing customer base and community has come to expect gallery openings,” Heather points out. “They will come see the gallery whether or not they need supplies. As we do open calls and our community of artists grow, people submitting to shows do not necessarily know us as an art supply store. They become customers, and when they bring their audience,they become customers, too.”
Key Benefits of ARTiculation’s Approach
- Varied spaces. Three different spaces appeal to different kinds of people while encouraging cross-over.
- Flexible standards. Annual shows are inclusive, with a consistent theme that expands the customer base while solo shows are more exclusive, building their presence as a fine art hub and supporting professionals.
- An eye for the long-game. “It takes a village.” Heather’s openness to building community means she can staff events with volunteers when she otherwise might not have capacity: customers flex their creative muscles, understand product and are happy to be a part of events! The more ARTiculations engages with creative community, the more resources they cultivate. The more connections they make, the more they can do.
The gallery walk continues. We’ve got a few more of our neighbors up in Canada to visit: next stop, The Gallery/art placement inc., a gallery that birthed an art supply store.
Do you have a gallery in your shop? We want to learn more about it! We are still adding stops on our road trip, and we don’t mind doubling back to pay you a virtual visit. Leave us a message in the comments or email us at artdogblog (@) macphersonart.com!