Love, Me Boutique in Halifax sells artwork and crafts created by Nova Scotia artists, as well as other artists across the country (Photo: Marie Hanifen)

Halifax shops aim for accessible art

An increasing number of venues are making local art easier to find - and some are making sure it's affordable too

Before Chara Kingston opened Love, Me Boutique in downtown Halifax, she worked as an art gallery curator. Art at the national galleries where she worked was priced in the millions of dollars, she says. Even at the smaller galleries where Kingston worked, buying a piece of artwork cost thousands. Art, in Kingston's experience, seemed to be reserved for the wealthy.

"Even while I was working (at the galleries) and getting a steady paycheque, it was not in my (economic) scope," she says. "So when I opened I was conscious about making sure I had items for around the $2 mark, and I don't tend to go past the $500 mark. I want it to be a place where a student could come in and find things, or a working professional and a mom on a budget. Everyone could find something in here that fits their need and their economic budget level."

Shops around Halifax

Local art can be found for sale in more and more places in Halifax. Kingston's shop alone features work by approximately 100 Canadian artists - many of whom live only a few blocks away - and there are other shops following Love, Me's lead.

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Some of Kat Frick Miller's screen-printed creations. The price range of Miller's work is wide, from $18 pillows to $1000 for large scale, one of a kind prints. (Photo courtesy of Kat Frick Miller)

"When we first opened there wasn't another store doing what we're doing," says Kingston who opened her shop four years ago. "Since we've opened in the past year there's been another store that's doing design-y hand-made stuff on Market Street. And then there's one that opened in Lunenburg..."

The store on Market Street that Kingston is referring to is Inkwells and it was opened by letterpress artist Andrea Rahal eight months ago. The shop mainly features screen print and letterpress art, but also sells other artwork such as clocks, mobiles and jewelry.

Rahal has already had success with her shop. This past November she received an award for Best New Shop from Halifax weekly, The Coast. While the store is a mix of work from Canadian and international artists, about half the space is filled with works from local artists - a space that is popular with customers, she says.

"I think often they're impressed that there's so much talent around here, because sometimes this might be the first time that people see it," she says.

The price of the artwork in Rahal's shop runs the gamut from $2 origami flowers, to $70 screen prints. Screen print artwork from some of her most popular local artists will typically only set the buyer back about $25. But it's not just the prices that attract customers to Rahal's shop, it's also where the art comes from, she says.

Rahal says customers often come to her store because they believe everything is local, or they are specifically looking for local artwork. Aside from looking for items for themselves, many customers enjoy buying creations from Nova Scotia artists to give to friends or family who've moved away, she says.

Other shops that feature work from local artists include Argyle Fine Art - which sells everything from jewelry and glassware to sculptures and paintings - and Seeds Gallery - which features work from NSCAD students and grads.

Craft fairs

Halifax boasts a variety of craft shows and local art stores. The Halifax Crafters shows run several times a year, and the Nova Scotia Designer Craft Council Christmas Craft Market runs in November. The annual Atlantic Craft Trade Show began Saturday and runs until 4pm this evening. When the show began in 1997 it showcased only 45 Atlantic art companies. This year it features over 200.

Other local craft fairs have seen similar increases. Kat Frick Miller, who graduated from NSCAD in 2009, has worked as a board member at the Halifax Crafters since 2008. The not-for-profit group usually features between 80-90 artists at each fair, which is a drastic increase from the number of artists who sold their creations at the first fair in 2005.

"There was only about eight (artists)," she says. "So we've grown quite a bit since then."

Artists in the community

When Miller graduated from NSCAD, she took part in a program called the NSCAD-Lunenburg Community Studio Residents. The program selects three recent NSCAD graduates to spend a year in Lunenburg in order to work on their portfolios. The grads are given a studio and are required to put on workshops for the public.

"It's a really nice way to become a part of the community," Miller says. "NSCAD (is) very insular. You're making art that mostly only other art students and professors are seeing, so really trying to engage with people outside the art community can be quite a challenge. So it's really eye opening and educating to have an opportunity to do that."

Miller, a painter, illustrator and screen-print artist hosted basic level screen-printing workshops where participants could create a design, and then screen-print their creations onto tote bags. Miller also created a mural with a Grade 4 and 5 class at the local elementary school. Miller, who chose to stay in Lunenburg after her year in the program ended, says that sharing her art locally has been a rewarding experience.

"When you can put something original that you've created out there and be warmly received by the community you're in, that's kind of the biggest reward," she says.

 

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