Corner Brook may have a strong reputation for producing some great artists, but the limited opportunity to grow can make it tough to operate a gallery that showcases original works.
Jamie Lee Cormier says she has done all she could do to offer such a venue since she graduated from the fine arts school at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University in 2007.
She opened the doors to her own business, JL Gallery, in spring 2008, but has decided she will soon shut down the business and pull up stakes for Western Canada.
Cormier got off to a great start after she first opened her gallery on West Street. Business was strong and she eventually transported the gallery to Broadway in January 2013.
Most art galleries in Corner Brook sell prints of works and their main source of revenue is really the framing of works. Cormier tried something different, hoping she could complement the sale of art pieces with doing commissioned work herself, offering art lessons, opening up her galleries for children’s parties and renting some of the extra gallery space to fellow artists.
While some of those avenues have paid off, she believes she has reached the point where the business won’t grow any further because the local population just isn’t big enough.
When she moved to Broadway, she had a list of artists lined up to rent her available space. Now, those spaces are vacant and she has been having difficulty finding new artists interested in renting the studios she has.
On top of the gallery not growing, her husband, Brad Woolfrey, is also not having much luck finding work with his millwright trade. So, the couple has decided they will be moving to Grand Prairie, Alta. this fall. JL Gallery will shut its doors for good at the end of September.
Cormier said the loyal support of her regular customers and the tourists who come to town just isn’t enough to justify staying.
“I feel bad to leave Corner Brook, but I need to do what’s best or me and, if the business isn’t making me enough money, then I have to move on,” she said.
Cormier is already looking at job prospects in Alberta, including the possibility of taking over established art camps run by an artist who is contemplating retirement.
Martin Steele understands how tough it is to operate an art gallery in a smaller market like Corner Brook. He and his wife ran Franklyn Gallery on West Street from 1991 to 2004.
Before he opened, there was a provincial government program that offered incentives to businesses if they bought artwork. Franklyn Gallery closed up shop for personal health reasons, but Steele said business had been dropping steadily when they did close.
He thinks the dropping of that government program may have had an impact. Steele also attributed the re-routing of the Trans-Canada Highway in the early ’90s as leading to more tourist traffic bypassing Corner Brook. The collapse of the fishery and subsequent general downturn in the economy, he added, also resulted in many regular art-buying residents leaving the area.
“It’s got to be even tougher these days,” said Steele of the dwindling clientele, adding the closure of JL Gallery will be a loss to Corner Brook’s culture.