Canada’s Longest-running Outdoor Art Exhibition’s
Recipe for Success
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.”