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The Unique Concept of Station 16: An Interview with Emily Robertson

by Louise Kronenberger

As an art lover, who has never even thought of opening his/her own gallery? Well, that’s what Emily Robertson did, with the help of her two associates: Carlo de Luca and Adam Vieira. Station 16 is the first art gallery dedicated to street art and graffiti in Canada, which makes her project particularly unique. It features many artists from around the world and challenges the more classical conception of the art gallery. Located on St Laurent, it is at the heart of the city, where young people go out and live. This gallery opened in 2012 and since then, Emily was never bored. I met Emily for an interview to get to know her, her journey and everyday life as a gallery manager. Hopefully, this might inspire some of you to start your own projects, as crazy as they seem. 

Louise Kronenberger: Can you tell me more about yourself and your journey to launch this gallery? 

Emily Robertson: I started in CEGEP in Visual Arts and then I went to Concordia to do a double major in art history and fine art]. I decided that I preferred art history, mainly because I had more friends in that field. Sometimes it is the people that shape your career path. Finally, I did a master degree in art history. My interest was always art outside of the institutions, galleries or museums. At the time, I wrote my thesis about postal art, artists sending their artworks through the mail. I found the process really fascinating. The parallel with urban art is that, it lives on the street, and then we give it another life in the gallery, but it doesn’t need the gallery to live. 

LK: Can you tell me more about the project of Station 16? How did this idea came to you?

ER: I have two partners, the team was built with Carlo de Luca and Adam Vieira. At the time, Carlo was my client. I sold him his first ever artwork, by Jean-Paul Riopelle. It was a whole other life for me, I was an artist agent. He was starting to get really interested in collecting artworks. It was him that knew Adam, and both started to want to collect more street art. I was commissioned to do some research to buy for them. That’s how I got involved in this project of collecting urban art, in an intermediary way for a customer. Than, Carlo said: « There is no street art gallery in Canada, what if we were the firsts? ». I said « No I can’t, this is too crazy, I am good, I have my job». I was really happy with what I was doing, so I didn’t feel the necessity to open a gallery. It is usually not a good idea for business. So for two years, he went on and on about this project. Two years after the idea, it was settled, we would open it, the three of us. 

LK: Why exactly street art and graffiti? 

ER: This is mainly thanks to my partners, because they had an particular interest in that. But also, we saw a niche. There was a lack in the Canadian art market more specifically. If we look at the street art market in Europe, it is huge, in the U.S., it is already there. It was just in Canada, it looked like we missed this opportunity. 

LK: What do you think is unique to your gallery? 

ER: I think everything is a bit unique. The only thing that is not, is that our walls are white (laughs). Otherwise, our location, on St Laurent. We were one of the first to be located there. Also, we play the music that we love, and the fact that we have a large team which makes the things and the everyday routine more dynamic. The fact that we don’t worry about the same things as the more traditional galleries, in the sense that, if there is a little bit of chaos, it doesn’t bother me, there is always activity in the gallery. For instance, there are some artworks that are out, because we sold them and we are going to send them. I want the people to see that our gallery works, that people buy things, that the gallery is alive. I don’t have the need to always have a perfect space, that feeling of perfection, more or less snobbish that galleries try to make you feel. 

LK: Who is your clientele? 

ER: We were surprised, because when we opened the gallery, we thought that they would be younger. We went for the 20-30 year olds, emerging collectors, collectors that would firstly be interested in smaller goods. When we opened the gallery, we saw something totally different and unique, we sought a market of younger collectors and also more experienced. Our younger customer is 9, he saves all his money from Christmas, birthdays, etc. and buys small things like books, stickers, and so on. That is how you become a collector, it is the small purchases that count. Our older customer must be something like 70. 

LK: Do you have side projects outside of the gallery? 

ER: The gallery is associated with the MURAL festival, that happens every year in June. This year it will be the fifth edition. MURAL is the bigger public art festival in Canada. We grew up simultaneously. We opened the gallery at the same time as their first edition. A great moment. Otherwise, I participate in the charity Les Impatients. We work with the people in need and do art therapy. 

LK: A new practice is really taking off at the moment, it is the renting of artworks. Since [this seems like a new thing], [would] you do that or would be interested in doing that?

ER: No. Frankly, no. I think that there is a value to live with an artwork, see it evolving through time, to really take our time with it. I think back to my first art purchase when I was 16, I still have it hanging on my wall. It is so different from my tastes today, and I think it is important as a collector to see our evolution, how we grew up in that. Because it allows you to change constantly, and decide if you want to acquire something for its aesthetic or the trend. Renting artworks does not fit my vision of how the relation to the artworks work. 

LK: Finally, what is a typical day at your gallery? 

ER: We are very lucky here. There is not really a typical day. Firstly, at the gallery, compared to a more classic gallery were there would be just one person sitting behind a desk, we are living a really different experience. We are a team of five people working full-time at the gallery, six days a week. It is a really different energy, we are not lonely. Our day is divided into different tasks that are split up between everyone. We are always thinking about the hanging, the installations, social networks, our next newsletter, our next exhibition, etc. But also less interesting things like the shipping or wrapping of artworks. It is part of our day, obviously it is less glamorous. But our priority is always the customer coming into the gallery. We are really lucky to be on St Laurent, because during the week we may have 25 people a day and on week ends maybe a hundred. We work with approximately 30 artists in total. 

Station 16 launched a new exhibition February the 16th, with the artist Éric Clément.

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