Doing well and good; Entrepreneurs and art gallery owners make charity their business

National Post
Sat Apr 3 2010
Page: FP18
Section: Financial Post
Byline: Dana Lacey
Lisa Martin and Steve Ferreria

Photojournalist Nick Kozak travelled to Haiti days after the earthquake to volunteer as an aid worker, not a journalist. But it was soon evident that the only way he could help Haitians would be to document what he saw in hopes of igniting other Canadians to action. Less than 24 hours after his return, Toronto art gallery owners Steve Ferrara and Lisa Martin donated their space to him.

The pair are co-owners of Well and Good, a small art business in downtown Toronto that strives to stand up to its name. It aims to promote and cultivate a vibrant arts culture amongst the various factions of the art community, and to find creative ways of philanthropy.

“Community isn’t just about the people in your immediate neighbourhood,” Ms. Martin says. Instead, the community they envision consists of like-minded people who share common values of philanthropy and art. Their art gallery, called 52 McCaul (also its street address), is run without profit.

Mr. Ferrara and Ms. Martin keep their overhead and prices as low as possible in order to provide a cheap place for starving artists to gather and showcase their work. Call it grassroots philanthropy.

To meet the costs of running the company, Well and Good sell their consulting skills to organizations that have the desire to host arts-related events, but lack the resources and connections. The pair organize and curate Toronto cultural events such as Manifesto and programs within Nuit Blanche and Bike Month (including Life Cycles, a collection of bike portraits taken by professional photographers).

Well and Good also aims to be a catalyst to increase support for Canada’s diverse and talented artists. The company helped organize artists and supporters to successfully vote in favour of Toronto’s new billboard tax, which will see a small portion of profits from the sale of ad space go to a fund that supports local art.

The duo like to call themselves “conversation brokers.” “We’re a distribution centre for ideas,” Ms. Martin says. They use the Internet to promote their events, and have a physical space for conversations to flourish. On a recent day, a steady stream of people wander through the current exhibitions — a collection of typography and a Brazilian-Canadian photographer’s vivid snapshots of dual-city living. A mural on the wall reads: “They are not pictures, we have made a place.” It helps for traffic that the gallery sits next to the Ontario College of Art and Design.

When organizing the Haiti photo exhibit, the trio struggled to come up with a tasteful, respectful way to showcase the photos Mr. Kozak had taken. In the end, the photos were printed large and filled an entire room. The effect was unsettling, the conversation unavoidable. “We wanted to shake people out of their comfort zone,” Ms. Martin says.

Occasionally the duo finds time to sleep, but not often. That’s OK, Mr. Ferrara says, because they’re doing what they love. “Art and culture are important.”

• Color Photo: Dana Lacey For National Post / Steve Ferrara and Lisa Martin’s non-profit art gallery in Toronto is a place for starving artists to showcase their work.

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