Canada’s Long­est-run­ning Out­door Art Ex­hi­bi­tion’s

Recipe for Suc­cess

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The art world, like most worlds, has a ten­dency to cat­e­go­rize. Art fairs and com­mer­cial gal­leries are the venues for sell­ing work. Pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tions serve an ed­u­ca­tional role. Char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions han­dle awards.

But what hap­pens when these cat­e­gories start to feel too re­stric­tive? When art-fair fa­tigue sets in (as the find­ings of Skate’s Art Mar­ket Re­search suggest it has)? Or when au­di­ences want a more di­rect re­la­tion­ship with artists? At that point, you need to break bound­aries.

Take Toronto Out­door Art Ex­hi­bi­tion (TOAE), Canada’s long­est-run­ning out­door ex­hi­bi­tion, which has been in the busi­ness for 56 years. It’s a non-profit ex­hi­bi­tion—not an art fair—but there’s still a strong com­mer­cial em­pha­sis: more than 320 artists, se­lected by a jury from a range of ages and pro­fes­sional lev­els, are there to sell. And they’re see­ing plenty of re­sults.

Emerg­ing Toronto pain­ter Keight Ma­clean is a case in point. She didn’t know what to ex­pect when she first ap­plied to TOAE last year, but the gam­ble paid off. “Toronto Out­door Art Ex­hi­bi­tion was a huge jump­ing-off point for my ca­reer as a fine artist…. In the course of three days, I went from hav­ing just a few col­lec­tors to a body of more than 30 new, loyal col­lec­tors who have closely fol­lowed my ca­reer since,” Ma­clean said. “I cried a lot of happy tears.”

Ma­clean’s ex­pe­ri­ence is no­table, and made pos­si­ble by TOAE’S unique blend of of­fer­ings. Plenty of in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed artists, from Ed­ward Bur­tyn­sky to Bar­bara Ast­man, have been se­lected to show at the ex­hi­bi­tion, but it’s still a venue where ta­lented new­com­ers like Ma­clean can make a big im­pres­sion.

This is partly down to the pub­lic na­ture of the event. It’s free to the pub­lic, and, given its buzzing lo­ca­tion in the mid­dle of Nathan Phillips Square, there are plenty of pos­si­ble con­nec­tions to make—the event av­er­ages an enor­mous 100,000 at­ten­dees. Vis­i­tors can get to know artists and un­der­stand their process, mak­ing work like Ma­clean’s even more en­tic­ing.

And, more than just a venue for pro­mot­ing work through sales, TOAE also has a ro­bust pro­gram of awards: they dis­trib­ute more than $30,000 in cash and in-kind prizes to a range of artists. There’s even a chance for par­tic­i­pat­ing artists to make it into an im­por­tant mu­nic­i­pal col­lec­tion with the Mayor’s Pur­chase Award, which, in the past, has been won by artists in­clud­ing Chris Al­bert, Stan­ley Turner and James Nye.

TOAE proves that buying and sell­ing art needn’t be a process shrouded in mys­tery that’s lim­ited to a hand­ful of deal­ers and buy­ers. In­stead, the com­mer­cial art world can in­clude events that are ed­u­ca­tional and ac­ces­si­ble, that foster com­mu­nity and com­merce.

All to­gether, Toronto Out­door Art Ex­hi­bi­tion stands in a cat­e­gory of its own.

“Toronto Out­door Art Ex­hi­bi­tion was a huge jump­ing off point for my ca­reer as a fine artist…. In the course of three days, I went from hav­ing just a few col­lec­tors to a body of more than 30 new, loyal col­lec­tors who have closely fol­lowed my ca­reer since.”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: SEAN HOWARD

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