By Fiona Campbell/Quinte Arts Council
When London-based auction house Christie’s announced in March 2017 that it was scaling back its live auctions and downsizing its physical footprint, instead focusing its attention on growing its online-only art sales, there were rumblings throughout the art world as to the impacts on the industry. Gallery owners were still skeptical of selling art online – that it would not only devalue the work, but invite plagiarism.
This move was not only prescient, but timely, ushering in a new confidence and interest in global online art sales. In July 2017, Artsy, a New York City-based startup announced it had raised USD$50 million in fresh venture capital. The offer was simple: an open and approachable way to buy art online via a digital storefront. Two years before that an-other online marketplace for handmade goods, Etsy, went public, raising USD$237 mil-lion in IPO proceeds. As of December 31, 2018, Etsy had over 60 million items in its marketplace, connecting 2.1 million sellers with 39.4 million buyers.
My point? The move online has been a disrupting force that has been shaping the art industry for the last decade – the biggest driver being the wider acceptance of e-commerce. And then in 2020 an even bigger disrupting force hit: COVID-19.
Non-essential businesses were shut down overnight, and entrepreneurs and retailers were left scrambling. Those who made the “pivot” to digital found profitable ways to connect with buyers. And the Belleville Downtown District BIA has been a leader in facilitating that connection.
Called “a game-changer” by executive director Marijo Cuerrier, the digital Downtown District Marketplace, which launched April 17, enables retailers, restaurants and service-based businesses to create their own virtual shop and sell their goods online using the (modified) Shopify platform.
“The Marketplace has been of great benefit to our members and our visitors allowing online shopping without added cost,” says Cuerrier. “One of the features of being on the Marketplace (rather than a stand alone e-commerce solution) is that buyers that might not otherwise see your product will be exposed to it while shopping for other items, further increasing our community’s perceived value of the Downtown District as a viable shopping destination.”
In the first four weeks since launch, the marketplace generated more than $22,000 for downtown Belleville businesses who set up virtual storefronts. The Quinte Arts Council was one of those early adopters.
“We know that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the performing arts community, with venues shut down across the board, but visual artists have been suffering
too, with the closure of galleries and retail locations that sell their work,” says QAC executive director Janet Jarrell. “COVID-19 forced us to rethink our approach to selling our members’ art. We had already began the process of re-imagining the shop space, but the shutdown in March accelerated the decision to move online. The digital marketplace provided a ready-made opportunity for us to continue connecting art makers and buyers.”
Traditionally the QAC hosts a Holiday Market in its downtown Gallery, but given the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the potential resurgence during this second wave, instead there will be a Virtual Holiday Market hosted on the Marketplace from November 2 to December 18, featuring even more vendors and more opportunities to buy one-of-a-kind items made by local artists.
“We remain committed to promoting local artists and artisans, and nurturing a sense connection while keeping everyone safe,” says Jarrell. “Shopping local – even digitally – directly supports artists and helps create a vibrant arts community.”