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Alexandra Best

Gallery Intern
Communication, Art + Technology › Contemporary Arts

Sandeep Johal’s new exhibition, 'Beast of Burden'
Sandeep Johal’s new exhibition, 'Beast of Burden'
Burrard Arts Foundation on Facebook
In many ways I am thankful that my first job in the art industry was with a new gallery, because I have been able to learn from the ground up how a gallery is run instead of stepping into an already well established gallery.

The organization that I was fortunate enough to work with this summer was Burrard Arts Foundation. BAF is a registered non-profit charity organization in Mount Pleasant that seeks to promote the development of, and excellence in, the visual arts in Vancouver by showcasing local and global artistic talent and providing opportunities that enable artists to produce their work and share it with the world. Public art is a primary focus of BAF. The director Christian Chan, gallery operator Chantal Sullivan, and curator Elliat Albrecht often work with artists to create public murals, sculptures and installations to engage a broad cross section of our community. Within the gallery and studio space, BAF exhibits engaging contemporary art in an environment that aims to be open and accessible to everyone. BAF also has a special focus of providing assistance to promising, qualified emerging artists through professional development and exhibition opportunities.

During my internship I worked closely on a day-to-day basis with Chantal. My primary task was to watch and manage the gallery during my once a week scheduled shift. I would be responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the gallery space, making sure the artwork was functioning properly (all projectors turned on, paintings hanging straight, etc.), and directing and informing visitors, answering their questions and engaging in conversation about the artwork with them. I was also responsible for taking inventory of our prints from past exhibitions and organizing them. While attending the gallery, I was given many important tasks. One of these was to research local artists and galleries, and compile a spreadsheet with notes about their practices and contact information. The purpose of this exercise was to broaden my knowledge of important local art community members, as well as to create a database of contacts for BAF when looking to collaborate with artists or organizations in the future. I was also responsible for researching local and national grants that our organization might be applicable for, and outlining the terms of the grant in a succinct document for Chantal and Christian to ease the application process. Being a fairly new organization BAF is interested in expanding their services and ways to engage with the community, so I was tasked to research ideas for a membership program. I looked into the membership programs of several similarly structured galleries for details such as how much they charge for memberships, what levels of memberships they have, and what benefits members would receive. I then translated this into similar ideas that would complement our smaller scale location and programming. Every 6 weeks or so, when we would launch a new exhibition, I participated in exhibition set up and take down, including sanding and filling holes in the walls and painting, preparing tables, literature sales, chairs for artist talks, and refreshments. I was responsible for attending the exhibition openings and artist talks, pouring and serving drinks to guests, taking photographs of guests engaged with the artwork, assisting in literature and print sales, and making sure the exhibition ran smoothly. I also engaged in meaningful dialogue with attendees about the artwork, including artists and many prestigious members of the art community.

A large part of my job at BAF was to assist with our social media presence. I managed our Mailchimp account subscriber list. I also very frequently wrote posts for our Facebook and Twitter accounts, regarding information on upcoming events and general information to keep the public engaged, and scheduled them using Hootsuite. Another significant tool I became proficient in was WordPress. I performed Search Engine Optimization for each of our website posts, dating back to the opening of BAF. I also wrote three posts for our blog, two of which have been published as of yet. My first piece, was on artist Sean Mills. My second piece, was on artist Robert Russell. For these pieces, I had to interview the artists about their practice and their history, and condense the information into a succinct, engaging article, while simultaneously being respectful and genuine to the vision of the artists. This is one of my proudest achievements of the internship.

My second proudest achievement has been my work on the 23 Days at Sea campaign. 23 Days at Sea has been a campaign started by Access gallery which BAF has partnered on, which aims to send 4 artists per year on board a cargo ship to Shanghai, during which time the artists will be ‘in residence’ working on their craft. To gain funding for this residency, we launched a Kickstarter campaign. Chantal, having an already full workload, assigned the bulk of BAF’s contribution to this project to myself, while she provided guidance. I was proud to be trusted with so much responsibility. I worked extensively on this project, attending meetings, coordinating with Access gallery, communicating and keeping organized. I conducted thorough research on shipping costs of donation perks, comparing packaging prices, obtaining shipping quotes from several companies. I also researched the cost of screen printing the art prints for donation perks, contacting several printmaking companies to obtain quotes and determining the most cost effective option. The Kickstarter has finally launched, and can be found online.

I believe this internship has been vital to my future career goals. Much of my education in the Visual Culture and Performance Studies major at Simon Fraser has been theoretical, aside from two studio courses. Art history and theory studies have been helpful to my understanding of art, but have not exactly been hands-on training relevant for how to curate an exhibition or manage a gallery on a daily basis. I always recognized this and worried about finding a job after graduation with no experience in the art industry, and a degree that many employers would see as irrelevant. This internship has given me the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the art industry. The art community in Vancouver is very tight-knit, and the connections I have made, with artists, curators, administrators, writers, and many other professionals will be invaluable in the future as I look for jobs. The experience and references I have gained from this internship will be appealing to other galleries and/or organizations in my future career. I have learned how the industry works and what skills you need to be successful.

Working closely with Chantal on a daily basis, I have been able to see first hand how a gallery is run. I know how to maintain a gallery’s relationship with the public, how to conduct a social media presence, how to write about and interview artists, how to negotiate with artists about contracts and exhibition space, host an opening, order prints, run a fundraiser, and apply for grants. After graduation, when I plan to apply for jobs in various Vancouver galleries, I have several connections I can call upon who know me well and would gladly look for a position for me. I also have the sterling recommendation from a small but well-known gallery. I have experience so that when I begin my future job in an art gallery, I know that I will be able to fit into the position, keep up with my coworkers, and be able to stand out as an asset. 

In many ways I am thankful that my first job in the art industry was with a new gallery, because I have been able to learn from the ground up how a gallery is run instead of stepping into an already well established gallery. I have been fortunate enough to learn why we have the policies and procedures that are in place. I could not have asked for a better place to have my first experience in the art industry. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn how an art gallery runs before I have graduated. It has given me a tremendous advantage over my peers for my future career. I feel ten times more confident to apply for jobs in the art industry after my graduation than before.

About the Author

Alexandra Best

Gallery Intern
Communication, Art + Technology › Contemporary Arts
Alexandra Best is a Contemporary Arts Coop student at SFU. 
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