Art a tough sell to Haligonians

Art galleries in Halifax have a difficult time profiting on their investments.

By Ariane Hanlon

Unfortunately for Halifax’s art galleries, beauty is not in the eye of the buyer. Retailers are having a hard time making art profitable.

Ian Muncaster has owned Zwicker's Gallery with his wife for 42 years. (Ariane Hanlon photo)
Ian Muncaster has owned Zwicker's Gallery for 42 years. (Ariane Hanlon photo)

Ian Muncaster and his wife have owned Zwicker’s Gallery for 42 years. He thinks that Canadians simply don’t consume art. “Several years ago I did a report for the Art Dealers Association of Canada, and we found that per capita, Canadians only spend 22 cents on art per year.” The biggest spenders were the Dutch, who spent 9.8 dollars a year per capita.

“Due to our educational system, which does not value the arts very highly, we tend to have a population in Canada that is uninterested,” said Muncaster. “We have studies showing that a focus on art will increase literacy and numeracy levels…but those programs are always cut.”

Ultimately, a retail gallery is like a retail store. “You look for two things,” said Muncaster, “high stock turnover and high margins. A commercial art gallery has low turnover and low margins. You own an art gallery because you love it. Or because you’re too ignorant or incompetent to do anything else.”

[audio:|titles=Ian Muncaster says it’s easier to sell art to people who already buy it:]

Marilyn Smulders is the director of communications at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. “Seeds is an incredibly valued service at NSCAD,” she said, adding that it gives the public a window into the programs offered at the university.

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Seeds Gallery
Zwicker’s Gallery

“The pieces at Seeds are reasonably priced in order to promote student and alumni work. But as with everything at NSCAD, the university is looking for efficiency,“ she said. “Services that are revenue-generating have to step up.”

According to Muncaster, the people who do buy art in Halifax tend to be older, and of a higher socio-economic status. Younger people tend to prioritize things like real-estate or transportation over art. Only those who earn high wages or have been educated and exposed to art will buy it.

“As with any marketing, it’s about reaching the consumer,” said Muncaster.

Smulders seems to agree, saying, “they can get publicity in other ways than through paid advertising. They can have events that are newsworthy, and use word-of-mouth. There is also social media to promote what is going on.”