Tuesday, 17 April 2012

What I learned at Art Crawl

So this past weekend I took a trip out to James Street North for the the monthly art crawl. For those of you not familiar, James North is a formerly industrialized region of Hamilton that has undergone serious renovation in the last few years and now finds itself as the hub for the ever expanding art scene in the city of Hamilton. So I decided to take this opportunity to get to know some of the other artists who had set up shop in the area. To see what I could learn from some already established professionals.

I was lucky enough to find a willing participant in David Brace, the curator/owner of a small art gallery called BContemporary. Mr Brace wasn't able to talk with me at length during the artcrawl due to how busy his gallery was at the time (It wasn't until midnight that he was able to close things up that night) but he was more than happy to talk to me about his business the next day. So on Saturday afternoon I meandered my way past the exhibits (A very well made series of sculptures by Peter Johnston that drew inspiration from the works of Jackson Pollock) and sat down to discuss the business of art with Mr Brace.

 Brace himself has been running art galleries for over twelve years and this year marks the one year anniversary of his setting up shop on James Street. His earliest experience within the gallery scene came right as he emerged from University. His first job after graduating was four years working for the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Unfortunately, his work with the gallery came to an end during the economic recession in 1994 when the gallery was forced to downsize (Losing roughly 50% of its staff in the process). However before leaving the gallery David was taken aside by his boss who encouraged Brace to continue his work in the art world. It was then that Brace decided he wanted to own a gallery of his own.

Brace would eventually be drawn to his current location on James Street as he felt that the street held great potential. in the time since Brace moved in James Street has seen itself caught in a rapid wave of change as artists and other business owners have rapidly begun to descend upon the area to build this neighborhood into a thriving cultural mecca within the city. Despite this rapid change in demographic Brace feels the neighbourhood remains resistant to the shadow of gentrification and continues to maintain the culture of those who lived here before the art scene moved in. Indeed, just across the street from BContemporary is the Portuguese cultural centre which has thrived since the shift on James.

Our discussion eventually drifted to the status of art as a business and the shift we've seen over the past decade into how this business is handled. Mr Brace, like many others in the industry, views art as a co-operative business. Within the framework of James Street, Brace explains, this attitude manifests itself in the relationship between the various galleries located along James. Brace explains that art is a business that thrives on word of mouth. By directing his clients to other galleries on James Street, and knowing that his fellow gallery owners do the same, he can increase interest in the businesses along James Street as a whole and also increase his consumer base. The galleries on James Street act less like competing businesses and more as a collective who views attracting business to James Street itself to be the most important goal.

It's this sort of grassroots attitude, Brace explains, that is so important to making one's way in the artistic world. Which is why Mr Brace feels that one of the most powerful tools available to the modern artist is social media. Art is information and our society's shift from a concrete to digital world now means information is more easily accessible than ever before. After all, Brace explains, an art gallery is just an idea: It exists independent of the brick and mortar that houses it. And with our shift away from this brick and mortar format into the digital age we, as artists, have the potential to redefine what the idea of art really is.

Talking with Mr Brace was an absolutely fascinating experience; my only regret being that we discussed so much during our chat that there's no way I could fit it all into this article. If you find yourself on James Street definitely take some time to stop in to BContemporary and have a discussion with Mr Brace. I guarantee it will be worth your time.

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