Across the country artists, museums and galleries are feeling the grumbling pangs of a an economy that’s been on a crash-diet. The much-heralded time of plenty in arts funding and spending came to an abrupt halt in 2008 when much of the world’s economy crashed. Since then, belts have tightened and shops have closed.
Some have been fortunate enough to remain mostly unaffected by provincial and federal funding cuts; others adaptive enough to find ways around them. And others still have done both — with great success.
Meet Megan Bradley, directrice of Galerie PUSH in Montreal and an Art Toronto NEXT exhibitor. Megan has offered her perspective on the art of running a business in the art world without arts funding.
impression/expression: Was there any specific time or place where you felt the first onset of the crunch or did it come on more gradually?
Megan Bradley: I opened Galerie PUSH in September of 2008, and shortly thereafter news of the worst financial crisis since the great depression was dominating every news cast and conversation. In many ways the “crunch” was and still is always there for the gallery, I didn’t know anything else and couldn’t be an accurate judge of its effects on my business. I was struggling to make sales as any brand new gallery does with the added pressure of knowing that spending on anything but necessities was being strongly cautioned against it felt as if my “but art is a necessity” speech would get old quick. I started to view the market crisis and my own crisis of running a new business in a way that would give me hope, I told myself that it couldn’t get any worse and while it took awhile to get any better it didn’t get too much worse! I just kept on trying to build the gallery name and reputation, if I couldn’t make money I would make a reputation, I would become a signal for emerging talent and I would stand by the work of the artists who were willing to grow with me. Now, just two years later, I can breathe a little easier, but like the market itself I tread on thin ice, I remain in the emerging stages of a business, in a milieu where credibility, trust, confidence, and reputation are primordial, the crunch made me stronger and a bit braver and certainly gave me conviction in what I do.
i/e: In what way(s) have you been affected by cuts to federal/provincial funding?
MB: I haven’t been specifically affected by cuts to federal and provincial funding as I hadn’t yet received any and run the business off two small business loans. I am now eligible for a some provincial grants that help with travelling expenses and promotional expenses for showing work elsewhere in Canada and internationally. When I became eligible for this, I made a shocking discovery; that the amount of money allotted for these grants, has not changed since 1986. I am less effected by cuts and more insulted that the support for the exportation and promotion of visual arts from Quebec has remained the same for almost a quarter of a century. This is fundamentally disturbing, if the market could be further developed for Canadian art on an international scale then our dependence upon public funding wouldn’t be so strong, private funding would be more prevalent and the market here at home would be more inclined to take part in supporting contemporary Canadian artists. I believe this is a significant problem for the visual arts in Canada, we don’t have funding going to the right places, the places that will actually allow us to become less dependent on government funding by stimulating the art market and getting Canadians excited about participating in it.
i/e: Have you developed new strategies in curation or business to counteract/overcome?
MB: In the first year of running the gallery I was really finding my footing and figuring out what would work best, I knew what I wanted the gallery to be from the beginning I wanted to showcase serious emerging artists and become a source for up and coming talent. I also wanted the gallery to be recognized as having a strong curatorial vision but I was at times sidetracked and often wondered if it was crazy to stick to my guns. Now, I know that my strategy in the business and the way I curate is to stick to focusing on what I believe in, as this is the essence of what a gallery must do; that financial success comes eventually but peace of mind in what your doing is what leads you to open a business like this in the first place.
Thanks Megan, see you in October at Art Toronto 2010!