The lack of international tourists in November might have convinced some people it would be a tough month for art sales, but seeing the receipts from Down to Earth Gallery would change their minds.
“It was the best November I ever had… in 15 years,” said gallery owner Rosalind Mercredi.
She attributes the strong sales to Yellowknifers choosing to buy locally for their Christmas shopping and the fact that Down to Earth has consistent stock since almost all of its products are supplied by local artists.
But the November rush on art contrasts with the slower months of the summer and fall, when Mercredi was selling less than half of what she had during the same period in 2019.
She sold almost nothing except for a couple online orders during the months of Covid closure from March to May.
That might sound like bad news for a typical business, but Mercredi’s low overhead, savings from last year’s Christmas sales and group of willing volunteers kept things moving along during the slow months.
If anything, Mercredi evinces a positive curiosity about how 2020 panned out. During the period the gallery was shuttered, she took up embroidery and organized the online Iceolation Art Show in March.
“We did a call for artists. We had 95 submissions (with) one from the Yukon and one from Nunavut. And then we did that first online show. It was quite a good mix of art and talent,” she said. “And I cleaned up the gallery and organized things differently and wondered what would happen next.”
The Anonymous Art Show in October was also a success. The 160 canvasses sold were more than in previous years, Mercredi said.
For all the southern and foreign tourists who couldn’t come this year, more than usual came from the North.
“We saw Nunavut tourists and Fort McPherson and Norman Wells and Hay River tourists… we’ve had a whole bunch of different people come in, maybe who didn’t even know we existed before. There were a lot of people from communities that hadn’t been to my gallery before from Fort Smith and from Fort Simpson who did the road trip to Yellowknife. Even in this town, there’s still people coming in (asking) ‘How long have you been here?’ And I said 15 years and they’ll be shocked.”
From her perspective as an artist, one of the most valuable effects of the pandemic has been the outpouring of creativity she has witnessed. Covid closed down businesses and limited other avenues of normal life as it opened other outlets for Northerners.
“You’re finding the time to do new projects or to create new work. Maybe you’re cleaning up that studio that you haven’t cleaned for months, or getting up and starting a project or maybe a show that you want to work on,” she said. “I’ve seen new artists coming to the gallery to see if they can sell their work. People have sort of discovered things in themselves. And I think there’s a resilience of Northerners, how everybody sort of jumped on to doing things differently.”
While Mercredi admits the gallery hasn’t had a very robust online presence in the past, posting art online from the Iceolation and Anonymous shows also gave Down to Earth more exposure across Canada.
“I think that’s going to bring us greater returns in the time to come. We got more messages and more emails from people from all over asking questions and inquiring about stuff. (People) are interested in us and in Old Town.”
Mercredi calls herself “cautiously optimistic” but she’s not naive about the state of the Covid pandemic.
She knows that she might have to shut down again in the near future if more coronavirus cases occur in the territory.
“I’m not doing any extravagant purchases. I’m keeping things pretty low key in the operations,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll be back to normal for quite a while. I’m hoping December sort of maintains November in our sales so that if anything happens in January and we have to close down or reduce our hours again we’ll be better prepared.”