Over the past year I have been reviewing exhibitions at the city’s public art galleries, institutions such as AGNS and the university galleries. The director of one of those institutions, Peter Dykhuis of the Dalhousie Art Gallery, is fond of describing the art world as an “eco-system,” as complex and as fragile a web of relationships as that which governs the world outside our windows.

Following that analogy, the art eco-system is comprised of artists, galleries, collector, viewers, critics, educators, granting agencies, and so on. The aforementioned public galleries are at the top of the system (some artists I know would describe them as “apex predators”) and have the most complex web of relationships, touching virtually every aspect of this eco-system.

However, for many artists the apex is often out of reach, or is at least a place rarely visited, with the occasional solo show, perhaps, for a very small group, or inclusion in group exhibitions such as the AGNS’s recent survey, Terroir. The forum for most working artists is another niche in the eco-system: the commercial galleries, co-ops, retail shops and other spaces where they can offer their work for sale. This is the market, and a healthy market is imperative for a healthy arts community.

So how healthy is Halifax’s art eco-system? We’re blessed with a large number of active galleries, many more, frankly, than one expects for our size. The commercial side is, not surprisingly, less robust, although a few brave entrepreneurs keep creating new galleries and other retail options for artists, and the established galleries keep hanging on.

Here, the heart of the market economy are four commercial galleries downtown, one volunteer run commercial gallery, and an artist’s co-op in the North End: Zwicker’s Gallery, Studio 21, Secord Gallery, Argyle Fine Art, the Teichert Gallery (formerly the Art Sales and Rental Gallery at AGNS), and Viewpoint Gallery, which is photography-centred.

Argyle Fine Art, Zwicker’s Gallery, Studio 21 and the Secord Gallery have banded together with a project called Halifax Talks Art, four talks about various aspects of the art market. The first, on discovering emerging artist, was held on May 30, the second will take place at Zwicker’s Gallery on June 13 and will look at the secondary art market for historical work. This fall Studio 21 and the Secord Gallery will host further installments of this much needed program.

There are many more galleries and shops, of course, from small coffee shops that show art to pop-ups to community centres and framing stores, plus emerging commercial galleries.

But let’s start with the basics. Commercial galleries offer art for sale to the public. Their exhibitions usually run for a month to six weeks, and the gallery and the artist split the sales price. The normal percentage that goes to the artist is 50%, though that can vary from gallery to gallery.

Many commercial galleries have what are referred to in the industry as “stables,” a roster of artists who they show regularly, both with solo exhibitions and as part of group exhibitions. Artists who are represented by one commercial gallery in a particular city will only show there and will not sell their work through other venues.

If you think of a commercial gallery as part retail store and part agent, then you’ll get the idea. Other venues tend to be less exclusive, and many artists show in numerous shops and small galleries around the city.

Over the coming months, this art market blog will look at the activity at numerous venues across the municipality, and will offer short reviews of exhibitions, stories on new ventures, and profiles of artists. My goal is to make the market more accessible, and, perhaps, make you part of the arts scene here in Halifax. It’s a wonderful place to be.

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