Art is everywhere: salon style walls, stacked on the floor, floating on shelves, brimming in boxes and perched on the desk. It’s a tidy and carefully organized inventory of eye candy. It is the dream office, and it belongs to our Art Rental and Sales Consultant, Karen Cooper.
If you’ve ever met Karen, chances are you’ve enjoyed a heartfelt (and hearty!) conversation about art and you’ve left the Gallery feeling uplifted…and perhaps even clutching a new exciting piece of artwork.
This is one of those inspiring conversations:
Q: Where are you from and what is your background in art?
Karen Cooper (KC): I grew up in Winnipeg which has a really great arts community. My first love in the arts was music and dance. I opened an art gallery in Victoria in 2003 called On Canvas above Ferris’ Oyster Bar, and that’s where I really learned about the business of art.
Q: How long have you been with the AGGV?
KC: I’ve been with the AGGV for just over 5 years now and what a wild and wonderful ride it’s been!
Q: What is your vision for the future of the Art Rental & Sales (AR&S) program and how do you think it’s changed over the years?
KC: AR&S still has room to grow. There are still folks out there who do not know that they can purchase a painting by a local artist at the Gallery. That’s part of what makes the AGGV unique, we really do support local artists. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that artists are bringing in their best works and of course they have grown and evolved over the years. Plus, we have greatly increased our inventory levels which means our collection is more varied and diverse. It’s also about relationship building, and I truly enjoy both the artists and the clients. I love working with the artists to bring out the best in their work. As an example, I’ve suggested to a few artists that they paint larger works or for photographers to print large and work to avoid needing glass. Be Brave!
Q: What is something that surprises visitors when they discover two showrooms in the Spencer Mansion?
KC: When guests come into the mansion after going through the exhibitions they ooh and awe over the works by local artists in the Spencer Showroom and Massey Sales Gallery. They are beautiful rooms and lend themselves well to contemporary art. It also creates a wonderful and warm space for events and meetings. Our guests love to see large works by local artists hanging on the walls.
Q: You and Claire Beauchamp, Retail Assistant, recently installed the Winter Small Works Show & Sale (on display now until Jan 21, 2023). How often does the plan on paper match the eventual hang in the Massey Sales Gallery?
KC: Small works shows are always a surprise, we never know who will be submitting. As a result plans are always loose. By the time we get to hanging the works we’ve seen them online for the jury process, and then when the artist brings them in (and they always look better live), and we unpack the works in preparation to hang, the stories begin to unfold. We will find a colour story, a narrative with subject matter, and a feeling then we have our plan! I operate on faith that everything will just work itself out and it always does.
Q: How do you think the two annual Small Works Shows (Winter & Summer) have evolved during your time as the Art Rental & Sales Consultant?
KC: The artists are doing their best works small, the same caliber and quality as their larger works. Something that I have promoted is intentional works, your best efforts, small size. When you come in you can see the high quality of the work, it’s really awesome. I have also increased the minimum size and price point and that has helped a great deal.
Q: What motivates you when you select artwork for shows?
KC: This is the tough part of the job, knowing when to say yes and when to say no. Can we sell it becomes a key question and consideration. If there is no potential to sell it then no one earns revenue. I have always believed that my job is to generate funds for local artists and the Gallery and I do not apologize for that. The more discerning I am, the more motivated the artists are to submit their best work.
Q: How do you find new artists and connect to new ideas for shows throughout the year?
KC: For those of you who know me, you know that I like to chat! When artists and clients come in we have these amazing conversations. Sometimes I test my ideas out on them and sometimes they share something that gives me a great idea. Being surrounded by art 5 days a week is also inspiring and helps to generate ideas. I also subscribe to a few art newsletters, I think it’s the immersion that helps to bring about new ideas. As Art Rental and Sales has been around a long time the artists find me plus I always keep my eyes open!
Q: Can you describe how art is important to society and the significance of the Art Rental & Sales program to the art scene in Victoria?
KC: Joy and beauty, unique and original, we humans are born to create, as children we sing, dance, make things, it’s in our DNA. Art opens our hearts and minds, it’s also something we can share. This program gives many local artists a voice and a venue.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who are looking to buy their first piece of artwork?
KC: Buy what you fall in love with, trust your gut and you will never be wrong. Work within your budget, start small and save up for the big one! And…you can also begin by renting and put your rental fees into the final purchase.
Don’t miss the Winter Small Works Show & Sale on now until January 21, 2023.
Images above: Installation images of the Winter Small Works Show & Sale.
Feature image: Karen Cooper, Art Rental and Sales Consultant, and Claire Beauchamp, Retail Assistant.