As she saw artists around her continuing to suffer through the economic consequences of COVID-19, Sara A. Tremblay was determined to find a way to help.
“I had lots of conversations with artists about how much stress they were feeling when thinking about the future of their careers and their financial situation,” says Tremblay, a visual artist and educator based just outside Montreal. “For example, one close friend said she has already lost over $5000 in upcoming contracts that were planned for this summer. At the same time, on Instagram, I noticed a lot of my artist friends and my students were sharing each other’s work as a way to spotlight their favourite artist during this challenging time. It made me wonder — how could we bring this excitement for art outside of our immediate social circle and share it with the greater community?”
Tremblay kept thinking about the how an artist can make money in a time when gallery doors are closed and public exhibitions are all being cancelled.
“It seemed to me that all we had left was social media. I knew in that moment an auction was an obvious solution to the problem. I could easily use an accessible platform like Facebook to promote the artwork of my peers — a key that would allow me to help artists immediately.”
The Facebook group Les Ecans de la quarantaine (French for “quarantine auctions”) was born, and ever since it has been virtually promoting the work of Canadian visual artists with the goal of generating income for them.
“After having the idea, in just over a week I had five pieces of art work up for sale on the Facebook group — work from a mixed collection of established artist, students and myself,” Tremblay says.
Every week the group started adding more and more artist work, and in less than a month they were able to raise over $10,000 that went directly into the pockets of the artists. So far, they’ve sold over 65 artworks that have totalled nearly $25,000 in sales, with some individual works being auctioned off for up to $1,000.
“Les Encans de la quarantaine started small, live from my living room, but almost immediately in the first week, I had many offers from my peers to help. Now we are a team of 5-6 volunteers running the auction, each in our own time, from the comfort of our houses.”
Tremblay says that one of the most inspiring things to come out of the project has been seeing the work of her peers be recognized outside of the insular world it usually lives in. The Facebook currently has over 4,500 members — a number which is made up of “a diverse group of people; artist and their friends, gallery owners looking for new talent, celebrities like Quebec’s very own NFL player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and most importantly people who have never purchased art before.”
“Like a great dating app, we have successfully matched artists with the public, and created a space where a vast community can support the art world and, in turn, have a new piece of work to hang on their walls.”
When Tremblay first had the idea and asked a few friends for submissions, one artist told her they didn’t think people had money to spend and that it would be very hard to sell work.
“But on the contrary, not only are artists selling work through the auction, on numerous occasions individuals have sold additional work because of the publicity they have received on Les Encans de la quarantaine,” she says. “The same friend who didn’t think I would be able to sell work sold a piece on the auction, and then the person who bought the work showed it to their friends, who turned around and reach out to the artist to buy additional work, and so did some of their friends. So my advice to people who are looking to start new projects to support their communities is to not limit your ideas. There are hungry people, in the comforts of their homes, who are looking to help they just need to be given an opportunity to do so. Your idea can grow larger than you ever thought possible.”
Visit Les Encans de la quarantaine here.
CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there’s something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at email@example.com. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.