Michael Gibson suspected weeks ago it would be arts and culture on which the public depend to help get them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reading, watching movies and television, and listening to music are all helping people occupy their time isolated at home.
And the city’s art galleries have shifted their operations to tap into that reality, going online with podcasts and videos to draw people to their exhibitions, which can be viewed only by appointment while their doors are closed to walk-in traffic during the pandemic.
“The beauty of the website is it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it doesn’t care if it’s raining, snowing or a pandemic,” said Gibson, who was among the vanguard of businesses who tapped the potential of the Internet.
Activity on the gallery’s website (gibsongallery.com) is up 20 per cent over the last month, with people viewing and making inquiries.
“I’d say people clearly have a lot more time on their hands and that leads them to going online and visiting websites,” Gibson said. “As I expected, people have gone to culture to fill their time.
“There’s no sense dwelling on the negative all the time and part of being positive is exploring things that you don’t necessarily do regularly because you don’t have the time.”
Without the usual foot traffic, Gibson admitted sales are “softer.” Some customers continue to buy, but “buying is not necessarily everyone’s priority right now,” he said.
Westland Gallery in Wortley Village launched its first online exhibition, which allows the arts to be viewed and purchased, although private arrangements can be made for viewings.
The new exhibition, titled Off Road, features works by Sheila Davis and Andrew Sookrah. To connect with the public online, the gallery (westlandgallery.ca) has posted videos of interviews, talks and demonstrations by the artists.
Danielle Hoevenaars, the gallery’s associate director, said the gallery has always received “great” support from the Wortley Village community in terms of heavy foot traffic.
“We’ve always had a website and connected by social media, so we thought we’d try and improve the online experience with interviews and videos. And we’ve definitely noticed an increase of traffic on social media, so people are clearly trying to engage that way on their phones and computers,” said Hoevenaars.
“It’s an adjustment for everyone, but I’m certainly enjoying making the videos. It’s different but kind of nice to see that can still be connected.”
Jonathan Bancroft-Snell Gallery, which has grown to one of the country’s most important ceramic art galleries featuring works by more than 120 artists, is also open by appointment only by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 519-859-0682 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Bancroft-Snell, whose husband Stephen White returned on one of the last flights from Mexico, has been in quarantine for 14 days ending Friday. He has turned to social media to keep connected with the public and friends.
Each day at 3 p.m., Bancroft-Snell has been broadcasting a podcast on his Instagram account, #ceramiclondon, where he talks about politics, life, pandemic and art. Plans to celebrate the gallery’s 20th anniversary this month are hold.
“I’m trying to build a little social distancing community,” said Bancroft-Snell. “We’re in unchartered waters right now and we have to stay afloat.”
A few clients have “made advance purchases, sending me cheques for things they might want to buy in the future knowing things are bad now.” One sale Bancroft-Snell made was to a woman also in quarantine, and another for a piece an artist hasn’t completed.
Bancroft-Snell, whose shop is downtown on Dundas Street just west of Wellington Street, also worries for the homeless people living on the street.
“And I’d like to think this (pandemic) will change how we care for each other,” he said.
”This pandemic should be a major wakeup call for us all. And a lot of artists are, all of a sudden, having major difficulties. They don’t have paycheques. They’re in a real bind.”