Reenergizing The Toronto Art Scene: Q&A With #Hashtag Gallery

Surface Salvaged - By Anser | © Nick Wons
Surface Salvaged - By Anser | © Nick Wons
Photo of Bryan Pei
18 December 2016

Located in the Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood, #Hashtag Gallery is an exciting feature of the Toronto art scene. #Hashtag showcases a variety of artists, with works ranging from new media art installations to pop art. Graeme Luey, co-owner and curator of #Hashtag Gallery, gave Culture Trip his insights on art, Toronto and the importance of social media.

When and how did #Hashtag Gallery start?

#Hashtag Gallery started in April 2012 when I approached two friends about getting involved in opening up another gallery, which I had been thinking about doing for quite some time. The idea of running my own space came from the fact that a lot of galleries in the city weren’t really showing the type of art that I like to see when I visit cities like New York or read about in arts magazines. I’ve always had a very, “If I want to see something, or think there should be a place that does something, I may as well be the one to do it,” attitude towards things.

Surface Salvaged – By Anser | © Nick Wons

What is the mission of #Hashtag Gallery?

Our mission here at #Hashtag is to help artists who want the help, whether that means a place to show, help curating a show, help pricing work, social media, or even things like offering life drawing classes. At the same time, our goal is to bring in bigger name street artists and contemporary artists from around the world and expose Toronto to some of the amazing artwork out there that’s being created. A lot of it is a little edgier than what’s being shown in the city right now. Toronto in general is pretty “safe” in what gets shown in galleries.

Surface Salvaged – By Anser | © Nick Wons

Obviously, the origins of the word ‘hashtag’ had nothing to do with social media. How was the name #Hashtag Gallery settled on?

We came up with a shortlist of names for the space and decided that the type of work we show is very “of the moment,” and with the fact that social media plays such a big role right now in promoting shows, art, and events, we felt it was a good fit. Also searching for #Gallery in social media platforms brings up artwork, or collections of art which we thought was fitting. Being #Hashtag Gallery was also a bit of joke as well since it really ends up reading, “Hashtag Hashtag Gallery”.

How do you feel about the current state of art in Toronto?

It needs to be livened up. Toronto can be a bit of a boring town in terms of really amazing art shows, and we hope to change that! We feel like people want something a little more exciting to come out and experience. Going into a quiet art gallery, and feeling like you have to whisper sucks. We’re not like that. We like to chat with everyone and make them feel welcome, and get excited about the art.

Surface Salvaged – By Anser | © Nick Wons

What do you think the Hashtag Gallery brings to the art scene that no other gallery in Toronto does?

I feel like we bring the human side back to the gallery scene. We’re very easily approachable, and passionate about what we’re doing, and the artists we’re showing. We like people to know the fun little background stories that go with each piece, and through social media share all the cool work we find online from other galleries and artists. We’re very much about collaboration and helping where we can.

How does #Hashtag Gallery view the relationship between the Internet, social media and art?

These days, it’s extremely important in order to get your art out there. Everybody has their nose in their phones all day, and platforms like Instagram are essential for artists to get seen. There’s always the danger of people not buying something because they can save it off the internet for free, but then again, those aren’t the people buying your work anyway. Social media is also free advertising with every share, which has really changed the game for starving artists, and grassroots galleries like ours.

Surface Salvaged – By Anser | © Nick Wons

As the roles of the internet and social media continue to evolve, do you think the mission of #Hashtag Gallery will need to change with them?

Our mission is to help emerging artists the best we can, and help art lovers find that perfect piece of art. So I don’t think that will change, no.

How does #Hashtag Gallery engage with people through the internet and social media? Why is it important to the gallery?

We try and reply to comments and share/like posts as often as we can to help artists promote their work. We also engage by sharing links, posts, and other interesting articles we find online that relate to the artwork we generally show, or just stuff we think is cool and people need to see.

Surface Salvaged – By Anser | © Nick Wons

What types of works and events can people expect to see at #Hashtag Gallery?

We’re starting to program more street/urban art here in addition to local emerging artists. Event-wise, we do all sorts of stuff. We host pop­up shops for local designers, life drawing classes, meet­up nights, movie screenings, interactive art installations, cocktail parties, magazine launches, pretty much everything art related.

How do you think new technologies like virtual reality or 4D printing will impact the art community? Would these types of new media arts be something #Hashtag Gallery would be interested in exploring or exhibiting?

3D and 4D printing has made it far easier to make prototypes for larger scale work, and mass produce items cheaply that once may have only been possible through a factory. We’re open to showing all types of artwork, and have hosted a few multimedia installations to date including an interactive film piece with a vest set up to vibrate with the music.

Surface Salvaged – By Anser | © Nick Wons

How do you find emerging Canadian artists and what’s the best way for them to get noticed by you? Are there any conditions artists need to fulfill such as being a Canadian citizen or having an arts degree?

We find artists through social media as well as through samples being sent to us. We don’t require anything from them aside from having great artwork! We’ve got artists we represent living in Tokyo, BC, Italy, and London right now, as well as one who’s still in high school at Etobicoke School of Art here in Toronto.

This last question is for fun, so don’t over think it too much. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” How do you feel about that?

I feel like that flip­-flops all the time, though lately it seems life is starting to inch closer to imitating the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy… so we’ll see.

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