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16-ARTERIA-P1 Credit photo Marrie-Eve Larente et Femmessor

Communicating with Passion: an interview with Geneviève Lévesque, Entrepreneur and Founder of Artêria Gallery

Geneviève Lévesque founded Quebec-based Artêria Gallery in 2008 with the aim of promoting the works of emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. Lauded for her perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit, Genevieve was awarded the prestigious Québec Mercuriade prize for business excellence in 2016 and emerged as the winner of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award for Micro-Business from a pool of 6500 candidates in 2017. www.arteriagallery.com/

Artêria Gallery showcases bold, high-quality works from a variety of mediums, such as painting, photography, sculpture and glass, to cater to various tastes. Representing over forty practitioners from Canada, the United States and Europe, the brand proudly truly embodies its vision of creating employment for artists.

The gallery participates in exhibitions and fairs across the world, such as the Affordable Art Fair in London, New York City, and Hong Kong.

Services include appraisal, second market resale contracts from individuals or corporations, consulting for businesses and individuals, framing and delivery. 

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Geneviève via video call between London and Quebec… 

1. Describe your business in 5 words:

It’s really important as an entrepreneur to find your values that will guide your employees, customers, and all that you are doing. For us, the first word is communication, as we feel it’s really important to have transparency with the artist, employees, and clients, and we find everything works so much better when things are clearer. Number two would be engagement: the way we engage with everyone we work alongside is through commitment. For example, we only want those who are passionate about art to work for us. The third one would be enthusiasm because we want to have fun at work! We work super hard but also have a lot of fun. Most clients who come to buy a piece, it isn’t a chore for them, so we try to keep everything light, in a way. The last one would be rigour. You know, some people think the art world is flaky but it’s a really serious business! I know these concepts can sound quite contradictory, but for us, they really forge the identity of the gallery.

2. What inspired you to pursue this career?

This is going to sound so cheesy and everyone probably says the same thing, but it’s passion. You’re not going to go into the art world if you’re not passionate, because it isn’t always easy. I don’t come from this background whatsoever; my family came from a more traditional form of employment. But when I was a child I used to go to museums, and you know how usually it’s the child who always wanted to go home? I was the child who wanted to stay and my dad was the one who wanted to go! And I would see people who owned galleries on TV, and think, ooh, that’s so fascinating. I never thought I’d make that happen, so it really was a dream for me. 

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession?

So many of them! In my case, I get to travel a lot, which is a lot of fun. We get to do anywhere between 12-15 art fairs a year all across Asia, America and Europe, so that’s really enjoyable. Probably, what I like the most about my work is that it’s always linked to people. Whether it’s the artists and their process and emotions, or the clients who receive the works; what I do involves working very closely with people. The reason why you like or buy a piece can be so diverse, so there’s something very intimate about working with clients. They can tell you love stories or about their achievements to justify why they connect to a work or not, so you do get into a very deep relationship with people whom you’ve just met. 

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession?

That’s probably managing growth. Many people think starting a business is really hard⁠—and it is⁠—but I was surprised that growing was even more challenging. It’s a beautiful thing obviously: you want more space, more employees, more inventory, more, more and more, but along the way, you face all these obstacles that you haven’t considered. Sometimes, growing too much can be dangerous, so it’s about considering the risks as well. It doesn’t have to be only financial, but also in terms of life quality and stress level. 

For example, in Canada, there’s a huge shortage of employees, so human resources is the primary challenge here. There are so many jobs available and not enough people to fill them. It’s a unique situation but in any profession, even plumbing or in factories, everybody is having trouble finding employees these days. Although this means the economy is really healthy and people are qualified enough to choose their jobs, but it also brings its own challenges. The unemployment percentages are at the lowest ever, but that blocks a lot of growth. A lot of companies can’t take new contracts or open a new location, which I wanted to do but had to hold back on as we were afraid this would bring trouble. 

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?

There are two pieces, though one wasn’t given to me, it’s more like I stole it! Warren Buffett said to only do business with people whom you love and respect. I think that’s so important as well, to have fun and be true to yourself. The second piece is from my mentor. Every time I leave for an art fair, he always tells me, “work hard, have fun, and make money.”

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!)

It might sound odd, but it’s to learn when to say no. At first, I always wanted to do more and take up more opportunities and really had a fear of missing out. But then, eventually you realise that you’re all over the place and that’s not necessarily good. It’s important to choose your project and study why you would engage in certain activities. Sometimes, there might be an exhibit and artists want your help or clients who want a special order that’s impossible to achieve, and I think it’s professional to say to someone, what you want cannot be completed to your expectations.

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address?

As we speak, the industry’s in a total shift. There are so many fairs, online sales, all these different platforms, and I find we are currently in that moment of transition. Only in a few years will we be able to look back and give a proper analysis, if that makes sense. So I find the old brick-and-mortar model doesn’t really work, but it’s not quite clear what the new model will be, so we’re all trying things out and trying to figure out the pros and cons of each new opportunity. If I’m speaking with other galleries, some of them can be less proactive and bank on walk-ins but I find that now, we need to go to the clients and be upfront, rather than wait for someone to come to us.

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why?

It’s so difficult! It’s funny because I don’t sell a lot of them, but I’d love to be an electronic piece. I’m so mesmerised and intrigued by them. I love them so much, but mostly because I cannot be static. 

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited?

There’s definitely an increase in networking, and I found that since I’ve been a part of AWAD I’ve really benefitted from the support system. Galleries were always nice to each other, especially at fairs, but after I was a member I could really feel the openness and solidarity. That surprised me the most, definitely. 

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network?

I think to make use of resources available. Just right now, I’m on the AWAD Facebook page: all these ladies ask questions and you benefit from all the replies, all the knowledge. I really found it helpful, to be able to reach out for advice or anything. 

www.arteriagallery.com/

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