The Storytelling Project Painting Installation at a Client Residence - Artwork by Calgary Artist Alison Philpotts May 30, 2022 Vandy Midha Finding happy homes for art while supporting Alberta artists Stephen Hunt When Vandy Midha — painter, interior designer, and founder of online art gallery and consultancy ArtMatch — walks into a room, her eyes always snap to the same place. “I’m immediately drawn to the art on the wall,” she says. It makes sense. You can learn a lot about a person, and their tastes, from their homes — and Midha believes there is nothing that rivals art in its power to express esthetic taste. And yet, working for years as an interior designer, she recognized that many clients do not share her views about what deserves the most attention in a room. “People are usually more willing to spend on furniture and lighting, which is understandable — these are functional, not just esthetic, elements of a home,” she says. “But budget allotment for art, even for those with large budgets, tends to be shockingly low, if not zero. Like an afterthought.” In 2015, frustrated as an artist struggling to make connections with clients, Midha took a look at the art (or lack thereof) on the walls of Calgary offices and homes and saw a gap in the market. What was missing was an easy way to connect people who care about purchasing original art, to the abundance of local, southern Alberta artists who are creating it. Many of these artists do not have time or resources to make these connections alone. “As an artist, I belonged to various art associations in Calgary and tried to network and market my work,” she says. That involved various art exhibitions at local community centres or churches that drew hundreds of visitors but a frustrating lack of deals. That’s when Midha put herself in the shoes of those art shoppers. “If I’m going to invest in an original piece of art, I want to know something about the artist,” she says. “If I’m going to spend this much, I want to know how it looks in my space and want some assurance on the quality of the piece.” This is not a groundbreaking conclusion. It’s one of the main reasons galleries exist — to vet the quality of an artist’s work to collectors who trust their judgement, and to provide guidance to artists and collectors selling and buying art. So why, then, are the art exhibitions packed with visitors, and galleries aren’t? “It’s a problem of accessibility,” says Midha. “People are intimidated by galleries. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Or they feel priced out or deterred by the ‘sneering’ presence galleries can be perceived to have.” That’s when she hit on the idea of an accessible online art gallery, which led to ArtMatch. “Why not have the artist keep the artworks in their studios, or their homes, and let them continue to try to sell it themselves while we also market the work and perform consultations. Why not provide many of the functions that a physical gallery does — but online?” she says. “It allows people to peruse at their convenience, without any pressure or barriers to entry — they can just browse.” Commissioned Art Installation at The Concord condominium – Artwork by Calgary Artist Lynette Melnyk Bridging a Gap In 2016, Midha had a website built, started promoting the gallery to her artist colleagues, and began representing 10 of them. Her Calgary artist representation has since grown to 30. Not only do local artists create the art, but they deliver it to the client’s space and explain the inspiration behind the purchased work. There’s no buyer’s remorse either — clients have seven days to decide whether to keep a work of art and if they don’t like it, they can send it back and receive a full refund. Midha says in six years, only a handful of paintings have been returned. “Art is always better in person. After already loving it online and having been ensured on the fit of the art in their space with digital mockups, we feel confident that the client is going to fall in love with the art, on the spot. And they do. That’s what keeps us doing what we do.” ArtMatch also turned out to be a good news COVID-19 story: when the pandemic shut down traditional art galleries, it created a receptive environment for Midha’s unique art delivery system — and a lot of unforeseen demand. “It turned out to be quite a successful thing because, unfortunately, the physical galleries had to close during COVID and people were staring at their walls more than ever and felt it was time to invest in their spaces,” she says. Not that ArtMatch has, or desires to, replace the physical art gallery. Midha is a frequent visitor to galleries and understands the critical role they play in the art market. Instead, she feels that she’s bridging a gap in the art world between very high-end art and mass-produced art prints — and along the way, identifying a whole new demographic of collectors. “There’s a large market of people who go to Home Sense and buy prints,” she says, “and a small market that is open to spending significant dollars on art and hopes to own a piece of art that, in addition to being something they love, might have value from a resale and/or prestige standpoint. ArtMatch finds a middle ground between the two – the quality is there, but we are more accessible, and focused chiefly on the art.” For several years, all the artists represented by ArtMatch were local Alberta artists. The response was encouraging enough that ArtMatch has since expanded to Toronto, where Midha represents 10 artists. Could she expand across the country? “There’s nothing to prevent us from doing it,” she says. “It’s a lot of work — our model is not to be another Saatchi Gallery, which is a hugely scalable online gallery where everything is automated, and the artists manage their own profiles, like a giant marketplace. We want this to be hands-on, curated, unique, and kind of a home-style Canadian gallery and consultation service. We’re taking it one city at a time, but ultimately, we are interested in expanding to other Canadian cities.” Calgary Sensibility As far as what sort of art moves the needle in Calgary, Midha says there is a huge variety. “Over the years, I always thought in Calgary, with the large contemporary homes, abstract art sales would dominate, but you know it hasn’t entirely gone that way — it often resonates back to nature.” “Mountain landscapes are very popular, but I’m finding that more and more people are loving the prairie scenes — big skies, and that kind of thing. Calgarians are of course very attached to the land, and they want a piece of that in their home. But abstract works do very well too! We try to maintain a variety of genres, styles, sizes, and price points to appeal to a wide audience.” Vandy Midha has found a way to transform her creative life into a thriving small business, helping to make Calgary spaces more creative and beautiful while supporting the careers of local artists. On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives. That need has turned into The Storytelling Project. The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.