It’s hard to imagine an art gallery running year after year without any staff whatsoever.
But that’s basically what the Ministry of Casual Living has been doing for the past decade, surviving mostly on grant money and the generosity of a dedicated group of volunteers.
“I added up the rent and pure money that the volunteers that ran the place had put in over the last nine-and-a-half years, and it was close to $85,000 that artists paid out of pocket to keep it going,” says Aubrey Burke, who is just completing a year-long stint as the “minister” – the grassroots organization’s term for curator – of the arts collective. “And that doesn’t count time.”
It should be pointed out that the Ministry isn’t exactly your typical gallery. All artists are welcome, and the group’s primary focus is on giving emerging artists a chance to show their work for the first time.
“We’re trying to make this available to everybody. It’s not exclusive at all,” says Cameron Kidd, the group’s new minister. “It’s set up in a way that there is a space available for people if they want to submit. We try to encourage people to submit as many proposals to show as they can.”
A recent move from the Ministry’s original home has opened up new opportunities for potential exhibitors. After occupying a space on Haultain Avenue for its first nine-plus years of existence, the Ministry now has a trio of display spaces in the heart of downtown Victoria.
The windows – in Odeon Alley, at 625 Johnson Street and at 407 Government Street – allow the Ministry to host up to six different exhibits per month; given the normal two-week run of each display. They can also co-ordinate the display spaces to support a single artist.
“We just had John Luna show in all three windows, and that went really well,” says Kidd.
Not only has the move allowed the Ministry to spread the wealth, it’s exposed them to a whole new audience.
“We’re definitely getting a different crowd, different exposure – probably more exposure – downtown with the citizens of Victoria than we were on Haultain in Fernwood,” says Kidd. “There’s a lot more foot traffic.”
Last week the Ministry hosted a two-day party to celebrate its first 10 years. Judging by the sold-out crowds on both nights, there’s plenty of support in Greater Victoria for their artists-supporting-artists approach.
“We’re vibing off the community and people are excited about what we’re doing,” says Burke.
Ten years in, the Ministry continues to look for ways to reach out to the arts community. Collaborations with local musicians are being explored, beach tours are being arranged, and there’s even a documentary in the works that examines the group’s first decade of existence.
“I think that the Ministry has been an important space for artists over the last 10 years, and has given hundreds of people the opportunity to showcase their works in Victoria,” says Kidd. “We’d like to continue doing so.”