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Local galleries go online to keep art in the public eye

Director and Curator of WKP Kennedy Gallery in North Bay says there are about 100 people watching the videos each week
Screenshot 2020-05-20 at 4.08.58 PM
One of Kay Brownell's, glass works on display at her gallery in Magnetawan. Supplied Photo

Art galleries are employing several platforms to engage audiences online, but are eager for the day when the province allows them to reopen. 

Alix Voz, director, and curator of WKP Kennedy Gallery in North Bay, is showcasing the work of local artists using vidcasts on YouTube and podcasts on iTunes and Spotify.

“They're like online interviews done through Zoom,” Voz explains. “The goal is to keep the artists on a platform, which is part of the gallery's mandate, and also just getting that connection going with the community and sharing some moments of inspiration.” 

She says about 100 people are watching the videos each week. 

Voz also has a digital magazine called The Easel to showcase some of the pieces talked about on the podcast.

While Callander Bay Heritage Museum & Alex Dufresne Gallery also is temporarily closed, curator Natasha Wiatr says the facility is still accessible online. 

A virtual tour was created last summer to make the heritage building more accessible for those who cannot access the second floor.

See: Self isolating? Take a virtual tour of Callander's museum

“We're an old historic house and we have an upstairs with a bit of a narrow staircase. So it's difficult for those who can't climb stairs and we don't have an elevator,” Wiatr explains. “Our plan is to have a computer set up in the museum when we reopen.” 

Wiatr sees the virtual tour, which has had more than 21,000 visitors since being released March 29, as a way to preserve the items in the museum, as well as the building itself. 

“You can at least see the art pieces in some way,” she says. 

Wiatr also has created a slideshow of the gallery's current exhibit. 

Vox believes online presentations such as these shouldn’t stop after COVID-19.

“Everybody who has accessibility issues is now suddenly getting all this amazing content,” she says. “I don't think that we can just drop it suddenly. I think that there's going have to be a stronger digital component from all these art institutes.”

Kay Brownell, meanwhile, admits displaying artwork online from her Magnetawan gallery has been difficult.

“It's been hard,” says Brownell of Windows to the North Gallery. “I am actually selling some things, but I have to learn how to do the online stuff.

“I don't know what else to do,” says Brownell, admitting she has had to pick up a second job to help pay the bills.

In addition to herself and her partner, Brownell’s gallery is home to 40 artists. She admits she’s worried about losing her gallery and having to go online to sell her work while leaving the other artists on their own. 

“I don't know how else to help these other women. But I have to be able to pay my own bills first.” 

Brownell says she’s adapted to the restrictions of social distancing by selling online and with a drive-thru gallery where she leaves pieces outside for customers to pick up. She says she’s even willing to display pieces outside for people to view if they are interested in buying. 

But Brownell believes selling art online is not the same as selling in person. 

“If I were going to buy art, I want to see it, touch it, feel it,” she explains. “But because of our reputation, people know our pieces are excellent. We only have top-of-the-line pieces in there, but only the people who have been into our gallery know that so they have to share with their friends.”

Nature Natives Art Gallery in South River, run by Christina Kearne and Joe Clayton, has been open for six years but also recently closed due to COVID-19. 

Kearne says they haven’t been selling pieces during COVID-19 but have instead used the time to create more artwork for their gallery once it reopens. 

“We hope to see people when everything opens back up again,” says Kearne. “We're adding new pieces to our collections.”

She says Nature Natives doesn't rely too much on an online presence, but has had people come in after seeing their work on Facebook. 

“In the past few years, I'd say definitely so. All of a sudden they will come in and say, 'Oh, I didn't know you were here.'”

Vox believes many people are starting to tire of relying on their computer screen for entertainment. 

“I think a lot of people are waiting to get back into museums and art galleries,” she says. “I do think the experience in person is completely different than something you get online. I know from speaking to some colleagues at other institutes that people are getting screen fatigue and they want real-life experiences.”

Wiatr agrees. 

“At any point in time anybody can Google what the Mona Lisa looks like and yet how many thousands, hundreds of thousands of people visit the Mona Lisa each year in person. We all know what it looks like. There's something different about seeing it in person, whether it's historical, or whether it's a piece of artwork that's created in modern times. 

“Despite all the digital mess of our world today, we're still drawn to the physical.”

Mackenzie Casalino, Local Journalism Initiative, North Bay Nugget

The LJI is funded by the government of Canada

About the Author: Mackenzie Casalino

Mackenzie Casalino is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The LJI is funded by the government of Canada
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