For a city unsupported by a provincial or municipal arts council, Halifax boasts an astounding number of art galleries. Hey, we have a world-recognized art school smack in the middle of the downtown, a network of reputable university galleries and a dedicated arts community with an Energizer-rabbit attachment to hard work, all working hard to fill every crevice of the town with art. You’re guaranteed to stumble upon artistic expression—from quaint Maritime landscapes to mind-altering conceptual installations—that you won’t see anywhere else in the country.
The prospect of entering an art gallery can be daunting—just look at all the pop-cultural stereotypes (see: Nuni and Noony, the SNL-sketch art dealers with the weird pan-European accents, razor-cut bobs and penchant for raw bacon) and suggestions of berets and elitism, but there’s nothing to be scared about: you don’t need an art history degree to enter, and all are staffed by trained professionals who are available for questions, if you care to ask.
Most galleries are free, with the exception of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (1723 Hollis), although at a $5 student fee (free for NSCAD students), it’s a bargain considering the calibre of established local, national and international exhibitions hanging at any given time. Occasionally, Pier 21 (1055 Marginal) will also host immigration-related exhibitions. Artist-run centres such as Eyelevel Gallery (2128 Gottingen) and the Khyber (1588 Barrington) are unique to Canada. ARCs, predominantly run by and for artists, were developed in the early 1970s as a response to a lack of exhibition space for young or non-commercial artists, and out of that legacy, you’ll find some of the city’s most risk-taking work that utilizes not only the galleries’ walls, but their floors, washrooms, windows, attics and sidewalks in provocative ways. Centre for Art Tapes, or CFAT (5600 Sackville), doesn’t have its own gallery space, but look for their programs and events at a variety of locations throughout the year.
Photography co-operative ViewPoint Gallery (2050 Gottingen) shows work by its members, all of whom contribute to its operations, as does fellow co-op Turnstile Pottery, located just down the street (2207 Gottingen). Organizations such as Visual Arts Nova Scotia (Corridor Gallery, 1113 Marginal) and the Dartmouth Visual Arts Society (Craig Gallery, Alderney Landing) also mount art by their members in a variety of media and styles. Veith Street Gallery (3115 Veith) showcases artists with disabilities or challenges. Mary E. Black Gallery, run by the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council (look for their new home at 1061 Marginal), pushes the terribly misinformed perception of craft as something created with scrapbooks and pipe cleaners to what it can be—a thoughtful and often provocative art form.
Perhaps one of the biggest accomplishments around, Dalhousie (6101 University), Saint Mary’s (923 Robie) and Mount Saint Vincent University (166 Bedford Highway) all house well-respected and professionally run galleries that stand up to any in the country. Depending on the schedule, you might find audio, video, paintings, drawings, installation, sculpture or a mix of them all, either from local artists, touring shows, borrowed pieces or ones drawn from their own permanent collections. NSCAD’s gallery Anna Leonowens (1891 Granville) wins the biggest-cheese prize: every Monday night, except on holidays, there’s a new show opening with work from students, faculty or visiting artists.
Halifax is also blessed with a DIY ethic: “If the gallery won’t come to me, I’ll make my own.” Enterprising curators and artists have started home galleries such as the wee watch-your-head attic Gallery Deluxe Gallery (6015 Willow) and the Anchor Archive Zine Library (5684 Roberts). Be sure to check the hours in The Coast listings, as you don’t want to sneak up on anyone in their pajamas.
Scattered around town are various artists’ studios, such as 1300 Degree (5641 Bloomfield), where you can learn about the ancient art of wood-fired ceramics. Most artist workplaces are generally closed to the public, but on September 9 during the Go North! studio tour, 45 north-end studios, homes, galleries and various alternative art-making locations will open their doors to the public. Grab a map and follow the pink and orange flags, or take one of three guided tour routes, scheduled three times throughout the day. It’s a great primer on the city’s artist-dense north end, and also a chance to check out some of the best clothes combos, piercings and hairstyles around.
Through the city, many businesses also offer up their walls to local artists. Cafe and salon FRED (2606 Agricola) keeps the decor refreshingly minimal and the walls bright with photography, paintings and other works in rotating shows. While you’re waiting for your cut, or gathering enough courage for a new tattoo, Foxy Moon Hair Gallery (2393 Agricola) and Utility Tattoo & Body Piercing Studio (5224 Blowers, upstairs) also have dedicated creative spaces. Buy a painting and a sweet vintage shirt at the new Lost & Found (2383 Agricola) or observe the eye-candy at the Economy Shoe Shop (1663 Argyle) while scarfing down nachos.
If you’re looking for something other than hockey jerseys or Coors Light posters to hang on your wall and you have some cash stowed away, purchasing art is a good investment and a pleasure to own. Argyle Fine Art (1869 Upper Water) sells work from artists at a variety of levels in their career, including recent NSCAD grads, and also hosts many events, including the annual skateboard auction where creative types turn boards and wheels into work too precious to use. Stop in at Painter’s Palette (Spring Garden Place) on your way to pick up a sushi special at Ko-Doraku. Secord Gallery (6301 Quinpool, upstairs) and Zwickers (5415 Doyle) are established Halifax institutions, as is Studio 21 (1223 Lower Water), which has one of the most impressive rosters of Atlantic Canadian artists around. The newbie in the pack, Gallery Page and Strange (1903 Barrington), has not taken long to demonstrate a keen eye for selecting an eclectic, carefully targeted mix of painters, sculptors, ceramicists and printmakers. Other cities should be so lucky.