Less Pretention, More Participation: Mariana Rivera of The Art Shop on Creating Community and Connection Through Art


Written by Hannah Hickli

Few people first connect to art in an intellectual way. Whether finger painting in primary school or being dwarfed beneath a towering sculpture, art appreciation at its most fundamental is emotional and connects us to ourselves and our environment. Yet, conventional spaces for art appreciation, such as art galleries, can be stuffy and exclusive places that cater to a narrow, if thick-pocketed, portion of society. Enter, a new generation of galleries with an earnest desire to share and communicate art to people across diverse communities, backgrounds, and expertise. Mariana Rivera is aiming this vision at Vancouver’s burgeoning art scene with The Art Shop, a gallery for emerging artists with an affordability model.

“I think that each single place, institution or space that works with, promotes and shares art is amazing... What we offer is our own vision and values, hoping that people will relate to and appreciate what we do.”

Rivera grew up in Mexico and Canada and has an academic and professional art, curatorial, and business background that stretches around the globe. With an institution of knowledge behind her, Rivera veered away from entering the “white-cube” galleries that remain predominant in the art scene, and instead carved an opening for a new way to connect people, artists, and works of art. Grounded in the community-building power of Rivera’s vision, The Art Shop (TAS) is a gallery aimed at bringing art to the people, without the fetters of pretentiousness and elitism.

“Through all my professional experience, I was always in search of circumstances when people connected to art in a non-pretentious and inclusive environment. But I always came to realize that those moments were the exception, and that most places where art is displayed are very exclusive and sterile. TAS comes from a desire for change.”

TAS's first pop-up exhibition at 348 Water Street, Vancouver. From Instagram.
Who Are ‘Emerging’ Artists?

Emerging might sound like a euphemism for young or malleable and, granted, it is a term that has become convoluted by its use. What remains important to Rivera when choosing artists to represent is finding genuine passion for the collaborative experience provided by a “jumping board” gallery like TAS. Platforming emerging artists gives them space to grow but also gives the broader public opportunities for buying art and understanding the process of its creation that they may not otherwise have. TAS fosters this by pricing with affordability in mind, but it’s more than just a way to expand the reach of the artwork, it’s about prioritizing connection and genuine passion.

“The mainstream media has really placed art in the eyes of the general public as something so unattainable and expensive, like showing the results of auction sales for millions. We use the word affordable to widen our reach, to let our audience know that art does not always have to be expensive.”

Vancouver is a burgeoning art market in many ways. But nurturing a vibrant, healthy, and diverse art community is difficult when only major enterprises can afford to lease space to display their art. The housing crisis on this coast has a silver lining in the expanding use of pop-up art shows. Currently, The Art Shop exhibits the work of its artists exclusively in pop-up exhibitions, which exist in a space for a short period of time, allow unique opportunities for the artist and the public to experience art together, and maximize the geographical impact while minimizing the investment.

“We have found opportunities that allow us to bring art to different communities and places, which coincides with our mission of bringing art to the people.”

To Rivera, TAS artists are innovators, collaborators, and allied minds in the model of affordability and inclusivity. She considers connecting to artists and forming a reciprocal trust to be the most important milestones in TAS’s evolution. When the pandemic ends, she hopes that she can host gatherings for TAS artists to continue in the process of knowledge sharing and community growth.

Beyond the Transaction

Rivera’s artistic experience stretches as long as her memory; for her, staying in touch with what drew her to art in the first place is essential. TAS is Rivera’s first business venture, but it remains foremost in her mind a place of social and artistic nutrition. It attempts to platform the introverted Vancouver art community to a wider audience, while welcoming relationships with art that accommodate people outside of the industry and academic world.

The Art Shop provides art in many forms: as standalone sculptures, photography prints, wall installations, paintings, collages, and recently wearable art collaborations. Selling art is not just transactional, it’s about connecting two humans with vastly different experiences. From the artist’s mind to the collector’s home; it is an intimate journey that ends on common ground.

“The person that buys a work of art is connecting to it from their experience that somehow, magically, connects to the experience of the artist that created it… Like most things in this world, this connection involved an exchange - a transaction. But even if this transaction is monetary - it goes way deeper than that.”

Disconnection from art is not only financial but includes cultural practices that strip art of its human basis. In the social media age, rampant non-crediting of artists online acts to remove the human story in the art. Rivera’s background in curation can be seen in TAS’s social media presence, which always prioritizes the artist when marketing their work. By putting care into what is shared and not diluting a feed with overwhelming content, Rivera is slowly and carefully communicating what she hopes TAS is and can be.

Rivera ultimately hopes that The Art Shop, intact with its ethos to always nurture new ways of connecting artist and public, will endure beyond her.

“I want TAS to be a life of its own, to grow past me and my efforts into an entity that is known and recognized for providing opportunities for people to relate to art and artists.”

TAS infographic “less pretention more participation” from Instagram.

 

The Art Shop operates primarily on the traditional, rightful, and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish peoples.

www.theartshop.ca | @tasvancouver

Hannah Hickli (she/they) is an emerging writer, biologist, and settler on Lkwungen and W̱ŚANÉC lands.