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Meet Mariana Rivera, Founder of The Art Shop

By weekday, Mariana Rivera is an art and curatorial coordinator for a leading art advisory firm. But by weekend, she seeks out local emerging artists and organizes pop-up exhibitions alongside an online gallery, known as The Art Shop. Six pop-ups later, TAS is finally opening their own somewhat permanent showroom at the Vancouver Mural Festival’s City Centre Hub.

“TAS became involved with VMF through building community,” says Rivera, “City Centre Artist Lodge feels like the perfect fit for our Show Room because of VMF’s long-standing efforts to build community, highlight amazing artists, and make art as accessible to the public as possible.” Following the recent announcement of this exciting news, we caught up with Rivera to learn more about TAS and the driving force behind it…

Rivera immigrated to Vancouver from Mexico with her family, when she was nine years old, eventually pursuing Art Studies at the renowned Corcoran School of Art and Design in Washington, DC. While working with the Mexican Cultural Institute and other galleries in DC, she attended an art fair in New York. It was here that the whole art world opened up to her and led her to study Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art (New York). During that time, Rivera interned in many galleries (typical for anyone trying to get a foot in the art world) and was confronted by the pretentiousness of it all – there was a barrier to simply viewing art. At one gallery where she worked (now closed), visitors even had to buzz in to view the space. This all seemed like such a shame – to have so few visitors through the doors, when there were incredible exhibitions and artworks inside. Since then, Rivera has been on a mission to fight for making art approachable and accessible — bringing art to ‘the people’.

It was during the height of the pandemic that Rivera found herself out of a job. Instead of working, she used this time to think and dream, and came up with a business plan for The Art Shop. By August 2020, she had rented an expensive retail space in the heart of Gastown, where she hosted the first ever TAS pop-up. Held over six days, the exhibition Art to the People featured 14 artists and was well-received. Rivera found that even (or especially) during pandemic times visitors, craved the opportunity to be introduced to local artists, to support them, and to buy art – many for the first time.

Riviera reflects and speculates on the growth process: “I think emerging artists responded to us faster than the public because of the lack of spaces that show their work in the City. The public started to respond to TAS as they got to know us. With each show, and with everything we do, our aim is to be as welcoming and accessible to people who aren’t familiar with art as possible, and I think that has allowed for our public to grow alongside us.”

Since that first exhibition, TAS has held five more pop-ups at various locations, such as the Museum of Vancouver and August Studios, each with a theme and educational component. The last show took place in April 2022, in her hometown of Xalapa, Mexico. Titled La Monarcha, the exhibition bridged the work of four Vancouver artists and four artists from Xalapa. TAS found a model for providing an approachable environment to viewing art, which includes an online gallery, and an accessible price point for acquiring art. Available works generally range from $50 to $1,000, (rarely more), with the average price for an original artwork being $200-400.

“By creating a support system at the beginning, these artists will continue to create, find spaces, make community, and ultimately continue their creative careers. I believe we need to build up and help push at the beginning to form a strong and supportive journey at the end.”

Through The Art Shop, Rivera has also found a new way of representing artists – for starters, one that’s not exclusive. She nurtures relationships with early-career artists, promotes their work, manages their inventory on the website, and finds opportunities for them to exhibit their work and for the public to see and connect with it.

For Rivera, discovering local artists and creating community is something she’s passionate about. It’s like uncovering hidden gems, where one artist often leads to another. Artists are here in our community, we just have to look. As for the future of TAS? Rivera imagines a TAS Toronto! and TAS Montreal! Her hope is to one day have The Art Shop continue to exist beyond herself.

By creating a support system at the beginning, these artists will continue to create, find spaces, make community, and ultimately continue their creative careers. I believe we need to build up and help push at the beginning to form a strong and supportive journey at the end.

After so many successful pop-ups, why make the change to a more permanent setting to begin with? Finding a longer-term space was not part of our initial plans, but as with everything that is serendipitous in life, we truly believe that the coincidence of community and opportunities led us to this decision. Once the opportunity arose, we considered the logical aspect of affordability. Renting temporary spaces is incredibly expensive in Vancouver. Part of our initial goal was to have our pop-ups happen in high-traffic locations to gain as much exposure as possible. A temporary exhibition of 5-7 days would end up costing us more than you can imagine. Now we’re excited to keep building community with our fellow creatives at City Centre Artist Lodge and hope that by having a more permanent space we will be able to welcome many more visitors and grow our public.

The City Centre Hub is home to a lot of artist studios/businesses but eventually, when the building is demolished, all of these people (including yourself) are going to be displaced and in search of affordable spaces again…In your opinion, what changes in the Vancouver art scene need to happen in order to make the city an all around more artist-friendly and art-accessible place to live in? Yes, the City Centre Hub won’t be around forever, unfortunately, but I think the initiative can be a great example of future opportunities to provide affordable spaces to the local art community. Seeing as the City is growing, and will continue to, the changes of ownership and structure of buildings allow for a transitional period that creatives can occupy. But apart from that, I think that to make Vancouver more artist-friendly and art accessible, we need more people to support emerging artists. The term ’emerging artist’ seems quite redundant as it’s used widely, but what I mean are artists who are beginning their practice, who just finished school or who are creating work from their apartments, or who have never shown their work to the public. By creating a support system at the beginning, these artists will continue to create, find spaces, make community, and ultimately continue their creative careers. I believe we need to build up and help push at the beginning to form a strong and supportive journey at the end.

Tell me about a thrilling or surprising artist discovery that you’ve experienced, that stands out in your mind. There is so much incredible local talent. I think one of my favourite stories is how I began to work with TAS Artist Wendy Hanlon. It seems old school compared to how I normally investigate artists through social media or their websites. I walked into Arbutus Coffee in Kitsilano on a sunny Sunday morning and was immediately taken by two large paintings hanging on the wall. I still remember the larger-than-life figures and the typical colours that Wendy uses. That same day I messaged her to meet and, since then, Wendy has been part of two of our shows, one in Mexico, where two large paintings now live.

Check out the TAS Show Room on weekends beginning this week. The first show is called Reassessing Excess and features Ben Evely, whose work uses the excess and waste left from art-making. It opens on Friday, October 7th, with a reception from 7-9pm – save the date! Evely’s work will continue to be on view every weekend until October 23rd. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm.

This also marks the first time that TAS will be presenting mini solo exhibitions, allowing each artist the freedom to use and transform the space however they wish. Other artists we can look forward to seeing over the next months include: Ketty Zhang, a new addition to the TAS roster of artists, who works primarily in painting; and collage artist Isabelle Grue Lee. For the holidays, TAS is planning a group show around the theme of luck and coincidence. Follow @tasvancouver for more details.

TAS Show Room (at City Centre Hub)
Neighbourhood: Main Street
Unit 128-2111 Main St.

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