A&E » Arts

The art of the Games

How did Whistler galleries fare during the Olympics?



Sure, all the tourists were buying Quatchi paraphernalia, red mittens and flags during the Olympic Games, but were people buying the best 2010 souvenirs available - original artwork?

It appears that local galleries didn't quite clean up when the masses descended on Whistler last month.

Chili Thom is a well-known local artist who recently opened a new gallery in Function Junction. During the Games, his gallery was "really quiet," even though his work received media attention from Mountain Life magazine, GEO , a German travel magazine and CBC Radio. It was also showcased in much of the Whistler Live! programming.

"From what I hear from other business owners, the only thing that really sold was official Olympic souvenirs," Thom said in an e-mail. "... Pretty hard on a lot of businesses all around... but man the Games were amazing! The vibe in the village was unparalleled. I felt damn proud to be Canadian!"

As Thom points out, sales aren't everything.

Harvey Lim, the owner of Art Junction Gallery & Framing Studio, said February is usually one of his strongest months for sales, but he figured that business would be very slow during the Games. And since his building was already undergoing major renovations he decided to close temporarily, renting out his own home to cover the cost of the lost income.

Despite all of the adjustments he had to make, Lim still views the Olympics favourably.

"Overall, I think the success of the Olympics will have a very positive effect for many businesses in the future," Lim said.

David Helfrich, owner of The Plaza Galleries, said that overall the Olympic experience was "fantastic" and he believes that the international media exposure the community received will pay off in the long run.

"Business did suffer due to the fact that all the parking was taken up by VANOC and the disappointing part is that most of the lots were empty.  This prohibited many of our regular buyers that would normally come from Vancouver and Washington," he said in an e-mail. "The Olympic crowds were not the demographics of people who spent money on anything but fast food and Olympic pins and red mittens."

But at least one local resident did decide to make an artistic investment during the Games.

Tina Symko has lived in Whistler for almost 12 years. She and her husband don't typically frequent local galleries, only visiting for special exhibits. But during the Olympics they decided to purchase a Toller Cranston piece. Entitled "A Winter Skate," it's a large, vibrant painting of a couple skating on a frozen pond.

Their purchase of the original painting from Adele Campbell Fine Art Gallery was motivated by a very personal connection to the artist: Symko's mother is a world-level figure skating coach, so she grew up watching Cranston skate and paint and has always wanted to own one of his pieces.

"I've known Toller since I was a tiny, tiny little girl and I've grown up watching his painting style develop and just growing up looking at his stuff all the time," she recalled.

So when she opened up a copy of Pique and saw that he was exhibiting in Whistler during the Olympics, it seemed like the stars had finally aligned. But they certainly hadn't planned on buying a piece of original artwork as their 2010 Olympic souvenir.

Some artists actually did see an upswing in business during the Games.

Suzanne Johnston owns three local businesses: Avello Spa , Explore Whistler Adventures and the Suzanne Johnston Studio Gallery. During the Olympics, the only business that did well was the gallery.

"Sales were much higher than expected due to the type of art that I was selling. Nobody was spa-ing or booking adventures. They were here to go/see and experience the Olympics and that is what they did."

Johnston represents her own work alongside a variety of artists'. During the Games, all of their collections had a bit of an Olympic theme, though Johnston's own colourful paintings of the Olympic rings seemed to be the biggest sellers.

"I was very positive from the start and anticipated that people would want to take something different home as a memento of their Whistler Olympic experience," Johnston said. "As my studio is in the gallery, and people love to watch a painter paint, I was painting during the Games and at one point I could not paint them fast enough before someone would buy it from under my brush."