Gallery owner won’t co operate with co operative subsidies

Yukon Artists at Work might be setting up shop in the old Fire Hall on First Avenue. That’s part of the Yukon Arts and Heritage Village…

Yukon Artists at Work might be setting up shop in the old Fire Hall on First Avenue.

That’s part of the Yukon Arts and Heritage Village Development Plan.

But, hours before the latest draft was showcased at an open house on Thursday, a prominent downtown business owner was already challenging the proposal.

The development plan suggests a substantial subsidy for galleries rented by co-operatives.

Yukon Artists at Work fit this bill.

In fact, it is the only co-operative in the Yukon, said North End Gallery owner Art Webster.

The co-operative runs a large gallery space in McCrae, where the members display and sell their work.

“Yukon Artists at Work is, basically, a business, retailing Yukon art, Yukon crafts and Yukon jewelry, just like I’m doing,” said Webster, a former Tourism minister.

 “We are very similar operations.

“In fact, some of the artists who are members of Yukon Artists at Work also have their art work for sale in, not only my gallery, but many others in town.

“That’s where I think it’s unfair — subsidizing Yukon Artists at Work to occupy that old Fire Hall with a much reduced rate.”

The rental rate proposed in the development plan is $7.81 a square foot, while those who want to establish a private-sector business in the heritage village will pay $36.70 per square foot.

“So, I don’t think there will be much incentive in the heritage village for a new person to establish an art gallery if they are going to have to pay $36.70 per square foot, when Yukon Artists at Work get it for $7.81, said Webster, who currently pays $24 per square foot for his Main Street space.

“A lot of people have laid down a lot of money over the years to be in business,” said Whitehorse resident Mitt Stehelin at last night’s open house.

“And, essentially, it’s favouritism for one gallery against other existing galleries.”

If it’s artist run, it’s somehow supposed to rationalize the subsidies,” he said.

But other artist-run galleries aren’t being considered.

“It’s a fairness issue and, basically, the subsidy is the sticking point.”

“For the proposal, they’ve done a fairly extensive consultation among all the various arts groups and have identified the artists who are interested in participating,” said tourism’s cultural services director Rick Lemaire.

But Lea-Ann Dorval, an artist who owns Maggie and Lea-Ann’s Lil’ Shoppe, where she sells original creations, was not involved in the consultation and planning.

In fact, she was not contacted at all.

“If Yukon Artists at Work can become the long-term occupants, (the Fire Hall) will become a magnet itself,” it says on page 26 of the development plan.

“It will be a place to watch real people making real arts and crafts products and a place to see real art from local artists and artisans.”

“I support them coming to the waterfront,” said Chris Sorg, owner of Murdoch’s Gem Shop, Paradise Alley and Mac’s Fireweed Books.

“In fact, I think they should get the space they are going to occupy for art demonstrations and art creation at no cost.”

But when they start reproducing prints and silk screens, rather than just selling their originals, then they should have to pay commercial rates just like everybody else, added Sorg.

Artists at Work was deemed a non-profit society under the Yukon Societies Act, even though it is a co-operative, said Webster.

“I don’t think that’s fair, either; a co-operative is an enterprise designed to carry on a business for benefit of its members — in this case the artists themselves.

“So, it’s a business just like mine, it’s not a non-profit society.”

In addition, artist-run galleries have several inherent advantages over private-sector commercial galleries in terms of making sales, Webster wrote in a letter to the steering committee.

“For example, the majority of consumers prefer to purchase a work of art directly from the artist on the premises where it was created, at the same price the work is being offered for sale at neighbouring galleries and gift shops.”

Artists also retain 70 per cent of the sales from art sold at co-operatives and only 50 per cent from works sold in private galleries and gift shops, wrote Webster.

“Given these and other advantages, is it really necessary for an artist-run art gallery to receive a financial advantage over private sector art galleries, by having governments subsidize its annual lease costs?” he asked.

The subsidized rent proposed for the old Fire Hall will amount to savings of $115,000 a year for the occupants.

“The conclusion we reached for Yukon Artists at Work, if they end up occupying this space, is that they are prepared to pay a percentage of any sales that occur in the space, which could be significant and will mount up to a ceiling which would be equal to the commercial rate,” said development plan architect Steve Cohlmeyer.

“There are developments like this in many cities all over North America, and the value of cultural and arts groups is significant.

“If one helps these people to exist, we benefit in economic activity and social good,” he said.

It would be great to have a concentration of galleries in the downtown core, agreed Webster.

“All I want is a level playing field.”