Artists hanging on with rest of us

by Jim Sinclair writes for the Sooke News Mirror

Artists hanging on with rest of us

There may be three sure routes to success in a recession: selling reasonably priced food, clothing and shelter.

The purchase of art objects, concert tickets, art instruction, music lessons, etc. has always been a discretionary outlay. It’s no surprise that the artistic sector is taking a hit lately, along with just about every other part of society.

What seems encouraging for the artistic community in these challenging times is that a certain segment of the population places a high value on art and continues to support it (see figures below).

Marion Desrochers, who operates the Sooke Fine Art Gallery with husband Michel, was generally positive when asked about buying trends in her area.

“It’s a difficult one to judge because the period from Christmas to spring is always a slow time,” she said. “Personally, we haven’t noticed a huge downturn … In fact, it’s been very good.”

One enterprising artist is branching out to include edible art in his catalogue.

Renaat Marchand is a noted carver with many prominent works in Sooke, including the sign at the new Ayre Manor Lodge senior’s residence. The native of Belgium has gone into business selling Belgian waffles near the Inner Harbour. If they sell anything like hot cakes (and why wouldn’t they?) it should be a good way for Marchand to supplement his art income.

Elizabeth Tanner, owner/operator of the South Shore Gallery in Sooke, says local buyers are “going for smaller ticket items … gifts and personal, rather than large pieces.”

The economic slowdown is far-reaching and there is no way to disguise it. But in his diagnosis on art commerce in this province, B.C. Arts Council executive director Jeremy Long said things are reasonably healthy.

“But what we are hearing from our client base is that the philanthropy side of things is hurting, and they’re not being able to access foundation grants,” he said. “Everybody’s suffering from it, for sure.”

Metal sculptor Bev Petow of East Sooke saw a drop in her commercial activity between 2007 and 2008.

“You’re always guessing what the market’s going to be looking for, anyway,” she said. “You never know if you’re going to hit the vein that year.”

It will be interesting and useful to watch this summer’s Sooke Fine Arts Show. The event has grown in scope, scale and prestige in recent years and organizers plan on the trend continuing. 

Co-ordinator Evonne Black sees art as a pillar of the economy and the numbers bear that out. “I look at it as a sector that will strengthen,” she said, noting that last year’s show attracted visitors from 168 towns or cities in 48 provinces/states/countries.

People in the artistic sector hope the economic crisis slows down soon – as does everyone else – but in many cases they tend to maintain a positive outlook.

“You can’t be harping on the economy all the time,” Desrochers said, “because seemingly, if you stay positive things will happen for you.”

Numbers show strength

of the arts sector

• Arts and culture make up an important sector in Canada’s economy, creating $84 billion a year in direct and indirect output – about 7.4 per cent of the national GDP (Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy; Conference Board of Canada, 2008)

• British Columbia has the highest concentration of artists of any province (Hill Strategies, 2007).

• British Columbia residents’ spending on culture is four times the amount spent by all levels of government (Hill Strategies, 2005)


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