Gastown is lucky to have so many fine restaurants, shops, cafés and interesting places for visitors and locals to hang out in. Many people come here for all that. But there is a growing trend among art collectors, (including many locals), in acquiring high quality First Nations art, particularly from the west coast of Canada.
According to art dealer and curator, Svetlana Fouks, Gastown is the top destination in the city for such creations. Now firmly at home in the neighbourhood that started it all, Coastal Peoples Gallery houses museum quality works of art; Indigenous pieces that are quickly becoming highly desirable with collectors both at home and around the world. The gallery recognizes the immense artistic talent that comes from First Nations communities in the province, and Svetlana has witnessed the international art world finally begin to follow suit.
What do you do and how did you get here?
I am an art dealer specializing in First Nations and Inuit art. I have owned and managed a gallery in Gastown for about 11 years. With a background both in anthropology and in marketing, I started a gallery in Yaletown in 1996 and later added one here in Gastown. With the challenge of successfully running two galleries, I found myself constantly moving back and forth between locations, and the time came to simplify our business. We knew our home was here in Gastown as it strongly represents the history of the First Nations people, with this being unceded Coast Salish land, and the neighbourhood itself is historic, wonderfully diverse, and perfectly suited to an Indigenous art gallery. At Coastal Peoples we represent over 400 artists who work in a range of media – from jewelry to wood, mixed media, original paintings, serigraphs, pottery, and other forms. These are extremely talented and creative artists that give us an intimate understanding and deeper meaning of their cultural background.
Coastal Peoples sells museum quality pieces. How do you acquire such high level works of art?
We house pieces from new generation artists, mid career artists, and masters. We really encourage them to do the best they can in their skillset. We work closely with our community of artists to help them develop their careers, and by doing this, we are lucky to acquire such a high caliber of artwork, often only seen in museums or private collections.
Is Gastown one of the best places in the city to find Indigenous art?
No question about it. The reason is because Gastown is so unique. This characteristic goes hand in hand with First Nations art; both are unique and diverse, equally layered, and abundant in colour and story. Gastown is a destination and Costal Peoples Gallery is a destination. There is wonderful diversity here, more than any other neighbourhood in Vancouver, and our gallery is truly at home in Gastown. Last year we expanded within the space, and now our entire collection is displayed on two floors. With more space, we are able to hold larger exhibitions, book signings, artist talks and other events that locals and visitors can engage with.
Are you an avid collector yourself? What do you like to collect?
I love miniatures and works that are embellished in unexpected ways. If you step into my home you will see a lot of First Nations art and other media on a small scale. People often ask me: ‘Why this piece?’ or ‘What made you choose this work over another?’, especially when I have an immense wealth of art to choose from. What often moves me is the connection I develop with an artist. When I fall in love with certain works of art, I know that I may never see them again, and most likely won’t have another opportunity to buy them. It is these types of artwork that I treasure. And each time I look at piece in my collection, I experience memories of my time spent with the artist.
Do you have a piece of First Nations art that is special to you?
I have many! From exclusive pieces of jewelry that have been created using age old traditional techniques to miniature carvings, and my collection of bowls. I am particularly fond of the Dogfish crest. The Dogfish is a very small bottom-feeding shark that exists here on the west coast. It is also the family crest symbol of a high-ranking female such as a Chief’s wife or an important community member. Even though this little shark can be intense, it is often portrayed full of character and detail. When I encounter pieces that have the Dogfish within the design, they most often come home with me.
Are there any interesting events coming up at Costal Peoples?
On Saturday November 17th we’ll be hosting an exhibition with Corrine Hunt, a Kwakwaka’wakw/Tlingit artist, carver, jeweller and designer. She is currently working with the British Museum, having previously worked with the Museum of natural history in New York and having designed the medals for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. All of her art is stunning, and in particular, her jewellery. She is highly acclaimed, and she will be in attendance for this exhibition, which will focus on the theme of resilience. It will be a fantastic exhibition and is not to be missed.