Saturday, April 16, 2016

How a financial corporation supports local artists by connecting them to a wider audience


Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art



Do you know about the TD Gallery of Inuit Art? 

I certainly didn’t until a receptionist from the Museum of Inuit Art in the Harbourfront told me about it. Of course, I had to check it out. So I decided to organize an urban sketching session at the TD Gallery, located right in the heart of the city in the Financial District. 

Turns out this great little gallery is the result of a vision from Allen Lambert, TD's former chairman and president in the 60s, who recognized the potential for art to make a personal connection and start conversations. After working as a branch manager in Yellowknife in the late 40s, Lambert developed an interest and deep respect for natives and their artwork. He believed that displaying art in the workplace would not only enhance the corporate environment, but would also enhance the lives of the staff and customers as the art would provide a way to forge relationships. 
“I feel that the value of a Corporate Collection is not just a matter of dollars or decoration. It is the commitment by the corporation of its concern for a fuller quality to life; an extra dimension is added to the normal business day by providing a stimulating and sometimes challenging environment for our staff, customers, and visitors.”
He also hoped that this would enable Inuits to inform others about their culture and tradition. I would say that’s exactly what he did for the Toronto Urban Sketchers. By providing free public access to the gallery, the bank is helping more people better understand and connect to Inuit art. On April 9, 2016 about twenty urban sketchers made their way to the gallery to sketch some of the sculptures beautifully displayed in the mezzanine of a Mies Van Der Rohe building located at 79 Wellington St. Sketching the artwork enable them to spend some time with the artwork and develop an new appreciation and understanding if Inuit art and culture. 

It’s very encouraging and inspiring to see corporations like TD take it upon itself to purchase local artworks and to share them with the general public. Toronto is not yet at the point where museums are free like in London, UK and Washington, DC which restrict access to some members of the population. So it’s great to see some corporations taking the lead on enabling more people from the general public to connect with the artwork of local artists. In this case, they’re contributing to raising the awareness of Inuit art and its significance in the history of the country which for some reason have been lacking in the classrooms (at least at the time when I was a student).

So how does TD's project support local artists? 
1. TD Bank buys local artwork
To date, the TD Bank Canadian Art Collection, comprising Contemporary Canadian and Inuit art, includes over 5000 works. The bank originally acquired 1000 inuit artworks. While 200 of them are displayed in the gallery, the rest, including inuit prints and drawings, are located in offices throughout the bank’s global operation. Most of the larger domestic and international offices own at least one inuit sculpture.

2. TD Bank familiarizes its staff to local art
As a result of the bank's corporate art collection, many employees have been able to develop a greater appreciation of Inuit art without having to make a special trip to a museum or gallery. For some individuals, having ready access to works of art has sparked their own personal collecting activities or helped stimulate creative thinking in their day-to-day work. 

3. TD Bank showcases local artwork as part of its marketing process
Through the years, TD's marketing efforts reinforced their association with Inuit art.  An Inuit carving is often presented as a gift to important clients, visitors, retiring board members, or dignitaries. Also, for several years, an annual corporate Christmas card highlighting a sculpture from the collection was produced.

Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art
Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art
Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art

Getting acquainted with Inuit Art 
I was particularly attracted to a carving by Osuitok Ipeelee from Nunavut called Mythical Owl. The way the wings are positioned above its head and its twisted tentacle-legs were intriguing and inspired me to sketch it. I wish there was a bit more information about the actual artwork. It's great to know the name of the artist and the title of the work but I have so many questions like : Why the owl? What does it represent? Why do its legs look like tentacles? Why are the wings placed above its head? Does the position of the owl mean anything? Etc. It did however start a conversation with fellow sketchers about how the carvings are typically created and how the artists typically start by sitting with the stone to visualize what’s "hidden" in the stone before they proceed to remove the unwanted pieces of stone and reveal the hidden gem within it. What a fascinating concept! That could also explain why the figures are not an accurate replica of a particular animal or person, and can have unusual characteristics like the Mythical Owl.

Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
My rendition of the Mythical Owl by Osuitok Ipeelee at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art
You can see a quick timelapse of my sketch here


Toronto Urban Sketchers TD Gallery of Inuit Art Toronto Dominium
Some of the sketches from the Toronto Urban Sketchers at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art


The sketchers created quite a nice range of artwork including sketches of the sculpture, the space and other sketchers. Everyone looked like they had a great time interacting with Inuit Art. I highly recommend you checking out the TD Gallery of Inuit Art next time you’re in the area. It is open 7 days a week and admission is free. Since the gallery opened to the public in 1986, the bank has maintain its commitment to do the collection justice and share it with the community. I hope this inspired other corporation to do the same as it’s a great example of how large corporation an artists can work together to enhance the lives of the community as a whole. Artwork should be shared with everyone. While not everyone can afford to own an original artwork, they should be able to see and appreciate them in public spaces like this and it's great to see companies doing something about it.