TorontoART.ca was a venture that Jim started designing in 2012 and launched in early 2013. It ran until 2019. It was a big part of his life and to a certain extent Janice, Jade and Jason’s lives as well so I have put in this section to acknowledge it.
For any of you who are paying attention, you know that Janice is a poet and into textiles and has a lot of personal interests but a big part of her life is her visual art practice. She came to it after studying fashion design and having a success line of clothing as a fashion designer and then many years at home raising kids. Her art interest took her to the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCADU) where she completed a BFA in visual art and then went on to develop an art practice and be part of the larger emerging artist community in Toronto. Some groups like the AWOL collective were a big part of that community and she was fortunate enough to show with them in New York at the Affordable Art Fair and for many years at AQUA during ART BASEL Weekend in South Beach, Miami.
Janice and Jim are largely inseparable in most undertakings so as Jim retired early to pursue a variety of interests and business opportunities he set out to help her with a website for her and her friends to expose their art more widely online.
In 2012 he came up with this idea that he (a million miles from a real techno-dweeb) would build a website on WordPress that could show various artists and galleries art and their exhibitions etc.
Well, that was a disaster. WordPress is a wonderful little recreational website builder (Jim built this website for me on WordPress) but is not robust enough to do what he had envisioned, and his skills were rather limited for working on “real” website design programs. So Jim ventured down the rabbit hole of hiring a website builder while he set out all the page layouts and visuals and interactive elements he wanted. He did the visual design and the tech did all the programming work to make that function. What came out of the exercise was www.torontoART.ca
WHATS IN A NAME?
My man Jim had a background in urban planning and real estate investment and at some point it occurred to him that domain names were a form of cyber real estate. Once you got your hands on a good domain name a certain amount of traffic would be guaranteed.
By chance he met a fellow who was the manager of a corporate collection of about 1,800 domain names. This fellow was in the business of building websites associated with a domain and then once it became large enough to demonstrate the significance of the traffic/ income it could generate, would sell the website and either sell or lease the domain name as well. He turned into a bit of a consultant for Jim’s venture into this domain name ownership world.
Now the significance of the names is in getting a domain that describes, as tightly as possible, the activity, service or product you are selling. So www.shoes.com is much more valuable than www.evelynsdiscountshoesandhandbags.com. It also means that if you have a unique name and already have a following like Elon Musk, it can be a great domain name but until you get that name recognition and profile no one will find you on the internet. Believe me as Django Bisous I can attest to this!
Jim had been buying a variety of these high level names when he came across a person willing to sell www.torontoart.ca for an amount that worked. Someone who searches the words “Toronto art” would be directed immediately to this site, all other aspects being equal.
The second key thing with the name was the use of a tagline that would tell the whole story: ARTISTS GALLERIES SERVICES EVENTS so that little else would need to be said to explain the websites function and mission.
This was used for all promotional materials and for the art commissioned for magazine ads I will discus later. As the site evolved more tabs were added for functionality but these four key elements remained for the tagline.
WEBSITE LAYOUT AND CONTENT
The goal for the website was to promote artists and local galleries in the Toronto market – particularly those emerging artists and alternative galleries who promoted their work. A second goal was to not have any advertising and to not charge the membership for the service either, other than a nominal $1.00 one time membership fee to keep the robots out.
The home page consisted of a rolling slide show of randomly selected art from the artists on the site. It meant that one simple application of the website was a monitor set to the Torontoart.ca website homepage if placed in the reception area of a professional office would have this ever-changing slide show of art produced by local artists.
Another important aspect was the Artist Member and Gallery Member content. Once an artist or gallery became a member they would get their own ARTIST PROFILE page and could post images of their art and tell their story as an artist and provide links to their own websites or social media page. Each of those Artist Member profile pages could have up to twenty images but an important part was the links provided to take viewers to the Artist Members own websites or social media pages where they could tell their story in more detail. Other than the usual controls on inappropriate content the material posted was totally up to each Artist Member.
Gallery members had similar content pages.
Both artists and gallery members could post events (art shows, art fairs etc.) in the EVENTS section and that component had a mapping system and a variety of search tools using art medium, location, date etc.
It meant visitors to the website could search for art shows in a certain area, and /or at a specific time, and/or involving artists working a certain mediums.
While the website was not curated (anyone who self identified as an artist could join) to highlight the artists who were more acknowledged as full time, successful artists Jim introduced IN THE STUDIO interviews where Jade would interview an artist and then post the interview in that section with images to feature that person.
One aspect that was contemplated from the beginning and many members enjoyed was the MEMBERS SECTION. Once logged in they could go to an area of the site the public did not see where in addition to the control panel for their own page to do postings etc. there was a FORUM platform to discuss current issues of interest to artists, a MESSAGE BOARD where they could post studio space for rent, stretchers for sale etc. and other tools to interact as a community.
After designing and testing though much of 2012 the website launched in February 2013 and over the next few years grew to over 600 members and over 6,000 new visitors per month!
One of the fun aspects of the site was Jim’s goal of linking cyberspace to real space, so he had installed some big monitors in a couple of Toronto cafes where the artists members could be shown on a continuous rolling image show. It was called ROAMING ART GALLERY. Each show would involve a specific group of artists who had signed up for that show which would run for several weeks.
The café patrons had some more enjoyable visuals than the local news station, and the artists increased their profile.
COMMISSIONED ART FOR ADS
Another unique aspect of the website was commissioning artist members to do pieces to promote the site which were then used as the ads for the website in the biggest art related magazines in the country at the time: Canadian Art, Border Crossings, Ciel Variable etc.
The irony of advertising in print form a venue for art in an online platform is more apparent today, but was lost on some people at the time.
Each of the pieces commissioned were intended to convey messages in visual form for the readers of those publications. The half page, full colour ads in the magazines said nothing other than the image themselves. Each of the images however featured the TorontoART.ca domain name and tag line: Artists Galleries Services Events.
The first one by Tony Taylor, ran as an introduction of the website to the world and shows two characters at a gallery opening pondering this upstart organization.
The second one is a bit of a joke on the nature of online vs. real estate-based galleries and was by Stewart Jones. Of course, there was no storefront gallery the image depicted.
In the third one Jim wanted to work with Paul Robert Turner, the talented portrait artist and had to find a way to stick with the logo presentation but to rely on Paul’s amazing talents as a portrait artist. What Jim came up with and Paul was pumped to do, was the image of a tattoo artist putting the TorontoART.ca logo on a woman’s back. Paul had not worked from that angle before so it was an interesting change for him and was a way to convey the logo in a portrait. The piece is called TA2 partially as the common vernacular for tattoos of TA2, but also as it was originally going to be the second commission as in TorontoArt2 but Paul was bogged down with some other things at the time, so Stew Jones actually produced his as the second item and Paul’s became the third.
As things progressed the goal was to find a way to convey the opening of two sister websites to TorontoART.ca In December 2016 Vanvouverart.info was launched and the goal had been to launch the Montreal site at the end of 2016 as well. Sandra Tarantino was commissioned to capture the timing of the arrival of those two additional sites. Jim had come up with the idea of using an arrivals board at a train station to depict the timing of the arrival of the two sister websites, and Sandra brought it to life in her style.
In each of these commissioned pieces the concept was Jim’s design of how to depict an idea and then it was left to the artist to work in their style to produce it.
HOME SCHOOLING M.B.A.
When Jim and Janice decided to do this venture both Jade and Jason had been to university. Jade had finished university and worked for a publisher and had several years in working as a book reviewer for the Globe & Mail. Jason had left university to pursue music production school and then the music industry. The big gap in their career kit was their limited experience in business. So after getting TorontoART.ca up and running they set up time every week to meet and talk about what each of them had done on the site, plans for the upcoming week and in general how the venture was going. Everyone had specific tasks: Janice chose the artists to be highlighted IN THE STUDIO, and Jade did all the editing for those interviews as well as anything on the site other that members posted content, Jason was in charge of social media and promotion, and Jim did the rest. But all the key decisions for moving the venture forward were reviewed and discussed.
While the tasks were specific it was an opportunity to turn both Jade and Jason on to some business concepts, how to find solutions to problems and find consensus. When I was over for my high school reunion last fall and told Jim I was gearing up to work on this section he pulled out his notes from all of those meeting that ran every week for six years other than when Janice and Jim would travel. For a guy who is trying to throw stuff out to tidy up his life, those notes had value to him in the memories they hold.
A SIX YEAR RUN
Along the way however, Janice was off working on her MFA at UBC, Jade was reveling in her Globe & Mail book review life and Jason was working on his music production career. What had begun as a project together by 2018 had become routine and one that Jim was tied to as a job. The Vancouver website was not as successful and without his presence in that market very often to build it with the art community it would not get the traction it needed to hit a good flow of traffic to promote the artists. This was occurring at a time when his medical situation had him reflecting on how to spend his precious remaining time. His conclusion was to spend it on some other projects as this one had served its purpose.
In July 2018 Jim told the membership that the site would run until March 2019 and on March 30th he told the web host to drop the account.
The hope had been for someone to take over the three websites. There was a lot of interest in buying the operation from companies that wanted to charge fees, and advertise on the website but at the time Jim was too close to the project as he had envisioned it and would not sell it if not continued in its original form with almost no fees, and no advertising so he simple closed it all down. It is mothballed- all still intact, sitting on a server with a web hosting company ready to go if someone wants to pick up the baton. Jim is probably less dogmatic today about the websites evolution so if anyone reading this has interest, just contact me.
Many friends were made during this time and Jim and Janice continue to get comments from many members and the general public who miss the website and its an important part of their memory bank.
P.S. It has been difficult to do justice to the TorontoART.ca website here but what follows below is a very small selection of some of the six hundred members Main Images from their Artists Profile pages that would be pulled randomly by the program each day to make up that days rolling slide show on the home page. Enjoy.
More images to come……