The Paint Spot, an art supply store located in Edmonton, Alberta, has got it going on. They host a city-wide art walk every year, a classroom with killer class descriptions, an easy-to-navigate website and instructive video content! They also have outdoor murals to broadcast their appreciation for the arts, and a dedicated gallery space. Every angle of owner Kim Fjordbotten’s work with The Paint Spot strengthens the local community’s ties to the arts. We got in touch with Kim in hopes of learning more about the gallery and how it impacts her business.
Naess Gallery is named for Sidsel Naess Bradley, The Paint Spot’s founder. Kim acknowledged that pouring time and energy into a gallery means prioritizing long-term benefits. “We’d make more money framing, but to be a place to give artists their first show or an incubator show, or to showcase people who use materials in a unique way, that is good for business,” Kim points out.
The Paint Spot does a combination of solo and group shows; each show needs to “make sense, either by contrast or similarities between the artists.” This past summer, they featured an exhibit by Laura Vasco. Preliminarily a graphic novel artist, she did a 100 day challenge, working on the first edition of a graphic novel. The show consisted of her sketchbook pages, watercolors, illustrations and drawings. She works with Schmincke watercolors, Canson watercolor paper; visitors to the gallery who are inspired by her work can peruse the shop shortly after and find these items ready and waiting. They also do themed group shows, which the community looks forward to. “Once a year we do a Big Big Portrait Show. We have a sale on 12″ x 12″ canvases. We opened it up: it’s a portrait of anything: people, dogs, cats, pizza, donuts, imaginary things. We got a total of 230 submissions,” Kim said happily. “Our gallery went beyond to all the walls of the store!”
Sometimes finding artists whose work you want to show can be challenging, and with open calls, the response can be overwhelming. Kim utilizes community events like the city-wide Art Walk as an opportunity to reach out. “We also have an extensive email list and mailing list, and people know to get their ideas in by August for the lineup for the next year. If people get declined, we have a conversation.” The team at Paint Spot has a clear idea of the kind of work they want to support, which helps narrow focus. “We aren’t interested in Bob Ross landscapes or florals, we want something different. We can’t do digital art or photography, since we don’t carry supplies for that. It’s not that we are saying it’s not art, it’s just not what we are looking for.”
A Dedicated Space
The Paint Spot, and the gallery set up, has been through a lot of changes over the years due to the shop changing locations. Originally, the gallery was a wall in the store, then it was an unused basement and a more experimental space. Their current set up is Kim’s favorite yet. “It’s prime real estate, the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Being in Northern Alberta, a lot of people come from out of town, Edmonton is surrounded by a large population of rural and suburban communities. It’s essentially the most northern capital of North America!” Every month the gallery changes, and staff look forward to seeing people’s reactions; customers know to look forward to new exhibits.
Staffing the Gallery, Building Skills
Kim brought up an important point about the impact of the gallery on staff investment. “The gallery is also a form of job satisfaction for our employees. It’s a morale booster, to elevate our customers and connect with our customers. Staff always love the show change day; I’m actually hands off. The gallery manager and store staff member Shelly Wilson does a lot; she goes the extra mile with it.” If your staff is comprised of experienced, working artists, you might check in to see if there is anyone interested in arts administration, writing about art, or marketing—all important skills that managing a gallery requires. “We see the gallery as a professional incubator for artists,” Kim explains. But it isn’t just the artists who are getting exposure. “Shelly can use her skills to help artists write their CV, write a press release. If there is a show she knows is a little bit special, she’ll take time to call a reporter or art writer and invite them to the opening. She’s very involved.”
Scaling Down: Relieve the Pressure of an Opening
While Shelly and Kim pour a lot of energy into the gallery, they also take stock of their labor and aren’t afraid to scale it back. “We used to have really fancy openings: food and wine, all that. It kind of dwindled, so we leave it up to the artists. People are happy with chips and sparkling water.” Cutting back on the expense and energy of feeding people at an opening allows staff to focus on higher priority tasks.
Connecting with Local Schools, Building Community
Kim makes an effort to invite local teachers to bring their classes in for special tours of the gallery. “Teachers will ask us what show is coming up, they will pop by for an art tour. King’s College was doing a graphic novel unit at school, so the timing on that was perfect.” The show at that time featured sketches and paintings from a graphic novelist’s sketchbook. “We also did a demo table for them, experimenting with brush markers and colored paper, so students could get inspired and try materials.” School tours then purchase supplies after the tour and demo.
Top 3 Benefits of The Gallery
- Walk the walk. “The gallery sets us apart from a discount store. It delivers on our brand promise to be engaged in our community; it elevates us from being a seller or retailer to something more.”
- Give customers time to think. “The gallery gives customers breathing room. There is the chaos of art supplies, and the quiet space of the gallery. You can turn around and see the unlimited potential behind you in the store beyond.”
Encourage staff leadership. A gallery can increase employee buy-in and instill a sense of pride. Check in with your staff and consider who might take leadership!