Pieces like Parveen Dhatt’s Her husband works too could find a temporary home in your living room (courtesy of Partial Gallery)
In recent years, Canadians have had the opportunity to sit at home and stare at the wall for long periods of time. And a growing group of them are getting more and more picky about what’s hanging there and staring at them.
Tammy Yiu Coyne, co-founder of Toronto-based online gallery Partial, is one of several art dealers who have begun to rent more art to individuals as an affordable alternative to buying it. Yiu Coyne says Partial’s online traffic has increased 130 percent since the pandemic began, and art rentals more than doubled from 2019 to 2020. The upward trend has continued, with a 43 percent increase in 2021 compared to 2020.
She co-founded the online sales and rental business in 2016 with the goal of bringing more Canadian art to more walls. Individuals interested in dipping a toe into the world of collecting can browse the gallery’s holdings of work by Canadian artists, both emerging and established. Rental prices range from $25 to several hundred dollars a month, and purchase prices from $35 to $10,000 (although most range from $750 to $2,500).
Customers have the choice of purchasing a piece outright or renting it monthly for up to three months, with the rental fee applied toward the full purchase price if the customer ultimately decides to purchase.
“Starting with a purchase can be intimidating,” says Yiu Coyne. “This model allows people to spend time with new art on their walls before deciding whether or not to buy it.”
It is a model that corporate clients who want to decorate offices, waiting rooms, restaurants and film sets have been using for years. Yui Coyne attributes the recent expansion of her consumer base in part to the lockdowns, a fact of life that she says has made some of her clients think more deeply about how to enrich their personal lives. And while an increase in disposable income due to travel and restaurant restrictions also likely plays a role, she believes there has been a larger shift in values that is driving interest in art as much as any other factor.
“People had time to think. They care more about where they put their money,” says Yiu Coyne. “You can buy something on Amazon or support an artist in your neighborhood.”
At North Van Arts in British Columbia, arts distribution coordinator Florene Belmore naturally had concerns when West Coast offices were emptied and film sets closed early in the pandemic. The non-profit organization has been renting out art since 1969, but primarily to corporate and film industry clients. But as corporate rents fell, private rents and sales soared, and the gallery is now earning about 20 percent more revenue from rentals and sales than before the pandemic, the majority from rentals to private clients.
“I think the downtime caused by the pandemic created a contemplative mood that led to a greater appreciation for art,” says Belmore. “And think of all the Zoom meetings that needed something in the background.”
The Art Gallery of Ontario’s rental program has seen a dramatic shift from corporate to individual rentals. Before the pandemic, it was roughly a 70/30 split between corporate and retail customers. In the last six months, around 80 percent of new rentals have been in dormitories.
“Residential properties are currently driving the revenue,” says Clair Kyle, art rentals and sales coordinator at AGO, though she saw corporate rents return as the Omicron wave receded.
The Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa owns approximately 17,000 contemporary and modern Canadian artworks, all of which are available for rent to corporations or government agencies, but not to individuals. Rebecca Huxtable, director of the council’s art rental program, says that like most companies and organizations, the Art Bank continues to evaluate new opportunities related to the future of work.
Despite a drop in corporate rents early in the pandemic, the industry is on a growth trajectory, according to Huxtable. To lure workers back into an office that many now see as optional, employers are investing more time and money into creating an aesthetically pleasing and healthy office environment.
“It includes better lighting, quality furniture, plants and original artwork,” says Huxtable.
She also sees that the art rental model benefits from the social change towards the sharing economy.
“Carpooling, meal delivery, co-working—all of these have taken off. I think that the art rental fits in quite well,” says Huxtable.
As for artists’ thoughts on the growing apartment rental trend, Partial’s Yiu Coyne says that a painting hanging in a law firm might get seen by more people, “but there’s a lot of good vibes when you see your art in someone’s home. ”
These days, you can rent just about anything thanks to apps like Ruckify, which originally launched in Ottawa and have stretched as far as Austin. Rental isn’t the only sector getting a facelift. Find out how Krazy Binz, a retail chain founded by accountants, has tapped a market of shoppers willing to queue to peruse large bins for mysterious deals.