SHOWING OFF OTHER PEOPLE’S TALENT

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By Sarah Munro

After four years of art school, you may have resigned yourself to the realization that you will never be Ansel Adams. Those years spent riffing on Jackson Pollock may have had more to do with alcoholism than art. So what now? How does one carry on in the arts community without the bourgeoisie banging down your door?

Ryerson’s faculty of design is thriving but the idea of a tight-knit arts community at the school seems pretty unlikely. However, you shouldn’t let that keep you from taking the first step towards getting involved.

Here’s a thought — work for a gallery. Where the clout of a curator can make or break the respective reputations of those “Next Big Things,” you can parlay your schmoozing skills into a well-respected and rewarding career.

Not that it will be effortless. Running a gallery isn’t all wine and cheese and striking pensive poses. The ability to spout photographic theory does not a good gallery coordinator make.

So what does it take to turn art into commerce? Where does one start?

Getting in on the ground floor is as easy as volunteering at any of Toronto’s artist-run centres. Or for the independently wealthy — and arguably insane — entrepreneur, you could start a space of your own. Some of the city’s most successful galleries were realized by rationally-challenged yet ambitious young twenty-somethings.

Regardless of where you begin, one’s ultimate success on the scene is directly proportionate to their networking ability. In the art world, as in the real world, the old adage is applicable: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Connections come in handy at every stage of the game: from securing a space in which to show, to filling that space with people primed to purchase the art on display.

Rest assured though, there is a lot that happens in between. Success takes a team of people with seemingly-limitless time and talent, plentiful people skills and an ability to handle egos of all sizes. It takes cold-calling and pounding the pavement to promote both your space and every exhibition it houses. Government grants and furious fundraising can help with fees, but you may still find yourself frequently coming up short.

Other than all that, an eye for original art, a head for business and a willingness to love your work while not being able to pay your rent.

Think of it as being the best of both worlds — you can live the lifestyle of a starving artist while bearing the workload of a businessman. Nevertheless, you can do so with the knowledge that all of your effort may just be paving the way for the next Annie Leibovitz or Pablo Picasso. Keep in mind you can do all this with the knowledge that, yes, in the wake of all your hard work there will be wine.

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