The Canadian art market contributes to thousands of jobs in creative employment annually, bringing millions of dollars into the economy. At the same time, the industry is fraught with stigma and buying art is seen as a luxury few can afford. However, RBC Canadian Entrepreneur Award-winning entrepreneur Geneviève Lévesque noticed a market: those who appreciate art and want to make a living as an artist, yet are excluded from the traditional scene. Thus, Artêria Gallery was born.
By Rebecca Heaton
Geneviève Lévesque founded Artêria Gallery in 2007, by simply responding to a need in her community: she knew a lot of artists, and it was clear that they needed help promoting their work. Specializing in emerging markets, Artêria manages over forty professional artists from Canada, the United States, and Europe, and is described by Geneviève as “the bridge that helps artists make a living off of their talent.”
Each year, Geneviève spends 25% of her time traveling to numerous international events. This year, she’s been to art markets in San Francisco, Hong Kong, London, and LA, to name a few. Depending on the day, you can find Geneviève sipping champagne and discussing fine art with friends, or in a garage filling crates with pieces that need to go across the world. “Entrepreneurs have to be a jack of all trades,” she says.
What is most striking about Geneviève is her passion for what she does and her knowledge of art as both a practice and a theory. “Part of the reason why art is such a growing field,” she explains, “is because the term ‘art’ is so broad. Art can mean anything from graphic design to opera to baking. Anything that comes from a creative thought process and anything that you put your heart into can be called art.” Geneviève also sees art as a way for people to connect with their humanity and find comfort in times of need. “I think people collect art and believe in art because they connect with the authenticity and vulnerability of it. A piece of art is an extension of the human soul in many ways,” she says.
After being in the art business for her entire adult life and traveling around the world, Geneviève has learned about different cultures’ relationship to art. For example, the tradition of collecting art in Europe has been part of their society for much longer than in North America. “Many Europeans see buying art as an investment and believe a home is incomplete or empty without art. The art is passed down through generations and they believe in its value and see themselves as patrons of the arts,” she explains. In North America, buying mass-produced art is much more common and does little to support the art industry and its artists.
“I think people collect art and believe in art because they connect with the authenticity and vulnerability of it. A piece of art is an extension of the human soul in many ways”
Interestingly, many Canadian businesses are beginning to incorporate art in their offices. “It has been well documented by scientific research that art can improve well-being and to a level, health! For example, it has been proven to reduce anxiety, which is a great asset in a workplace that can get stressful from time to time,” says Geneviève. This belief in the power of art is what motivates Geneviève, and while starting her business has been stressful, centering it on something she loves has been key to her continued success.
And, while there is a tremendous amount of risk involved in starting your own business, Geneviève says there is always someone there to help you. “The trick is asking for the help,” she says. She also suggests finding a mentor, even if they are not in the same field as you because “a business is a business.” What surprised her most was that growth is actually more challenging than the initial start-up. “It’s a totally different ball game,” she says. While growth can be scary and is easier said than done, Genevieve encourages female entrepreneurs to not be afraid to go international. “It really does open so many doors. Artêria wouldn’t even be alive if we didn’t take that leap of faith to go elsewhere,” she says.
At Artêria, Geneviève gives her staff a lot of autonomy and believes in the importance of offering them flexible hours. First, because she values work/life balance and secondly, because the new generation of workers have different expectations. She explains, “Millennials have a different relationship with work, in that it needs to make them grow into better human beings. We expect a lot more from our jobs and the clock-in, clock-out dynamic just does not cut it.”
Geneviève insists that this career path chose her. What started out as a volunteering process, promptly became a full-time activity because the demand was so high for artists seeking representation. Being able to travel, work in art and choose who to work with is a dream come true for Geneviève, but it could not have happened without a lot of hard work and a little determination to go and get what you want.