Despite crummy weather, ArtWorks East ends season on high note

GUYSBOROUGH — Though revenues were off slightly this summer, Guysborough’s ArtWorks East Gallery had its best showing of local artists since opening its waterfront location in 2021, according to Jack Leonard, president of ArtWorks East.

“Gross sales, at $17,000, were down a bit due to the weather and [higher] gas and food prices from the last two years — at $22,000 each,” he told The Journal last week. “But, we had 37 artists represented in the gallery this year, our best yet. Thirty-one of these had some sales; a few made a few thousand in sales.”

All in all, it was a gratifying end to the season for ArtWorks East, which launched as kind of a moveable feast for more than 50 Guysborough County visual artists and crafters, who pay anywhere from $10 (newbies) to $25 (returning members) a year to belong.

“When we started, people were just selling in the Christmas markets,” he said. “The mailing address is [still] just my house. We rent the gallery space from the marina; it’s really a boat storage building with big garage doors. We have to vacate in September, when they start storing boats and trailers.”

From the beginning, though, the group has been delighted, and surprised, by the degree of moral and material support they’ve received from the community. “The municipality has welcomed us with open arms and given us many grants every single year,” Leonard said. “The Guysborough County Tourism Association embraced us and just kept emphasizing how important we were to the future of developmental tourism here.”

He said, “While some of our members are full time artists, who really make their living that way, we also have a lot who are just doing this part time. We thought something like this gallery would be helpful, a big step in the right direction and show people they could be selling their art to tourists.”

ArtWorks helps in other ways, too. “We realized we could get grants to support artists doing workshops,” said Leonard, a retired university professor, originally from the United States, with a gift for grant writing. “It was another way to put money in their pocket. We’re a rural community that’s overlooked by the province, and we have a very high senior population. We qualify for so many grants, it’s just crazy.”

Indeed, a recent one from the provincial government (a recreation community development grant) is funding weekly workshops by his spouse, artist Lee Leonard, for members of the Guysborough Options for Adaptive Living Society (GOALS), which runs for another 26 weeks.

Said Leonard: “Lee is being assisted by our part-time, invaluable assistant Adrienne Betts, who also pioneered a new sales outlet for us this year. She began reaching out to local Airbnb operators who would like to feature paintings, prints and other crafts in their accommodations, which would then be for sale to visiting tourists.”

Meanwhile, said Leonard, “Over 90 per cent of [gallery sales this year] went back to the artists; we retained a bit for rent, the Square check-out system and gallery material expenses.”

As for the future, he noted, “We talk about getting a permanent spot on the waterfront for the gallery.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal