Fear of commitment? Why not rent

By Lindsey Parry

An unconventional way of decorating your home and office walls shows that a little can really go a long way.

The Ottawa Art Gallery’s rental service, located at 2 Daly Ave., has been servicing art lovers since 1993. Customers can choose from more than 250 displayed art works, priced as low as $15.

“Here, that amount’s about as good as $500,” says publicist Carol Reesor. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to start an art collection, and you don’t have to know a lot about art to begin with. It’s a very gentle way to becoming an addiction.”

The rental service, which recently won a business recognition award from the Council for the Arts in Ottawa, features about 80 local artists. After paying a small membership fee, customers have the option of buying a painting, or simply renting at a monthly rate starting at $8.50.

Reesor says there are two reasons for this.

“One goal of ours is to help and encourage people to start up their own art collection,” she explains. “Maybe you’ll keep that painting in your house for a while. After a few months, maybe then you’ll have gotten a raise or married a millionaire. So if you fall in love with the work, you can make a deal with the artists.”

The Art Lenders of Ottawa are also involved in renting artwork. They rent the work of their 100 members each month at the First Unitarian Church on Cleary Street.

Susan Gillmor, an artist with the group since 1988, says she understands why people like to rent art.

“Obviously, it’s relatively inexpensive to rent. People don’t want to make a big investment without having to live with it first. So, we allow people to change their minds every now and then.”

The flexibility of rented art is one of the benefits, says Debbie Waite, a Nepean dentist. Waite says she began renting over a year ago while looking for a way to decorate her new office.

“Sometimes you get really struck by a picture, but soon after you put it up on the wall, you may find it doesn’t strike you as much,” she says.

Of course, adds Waite, there is always a risk involved when renting paintings.

“You may take something you like back to the artist and never see it again if you don’t buy it immediately. There’s also a couple of things I had been wishing to rent, but I didn’t at that moment, and now I haven’t seen them since.”

Both the Art Gallery and Art Lenders of Ottawa are non-profit organizations, running on a small percentage of the artists’ sale prices.

The average annual salary of a Canadian artist — only $13,000 — has been stagnant over the last 20 years.

“People don’t make much from a rental,” says Gillmor, who must give 30 per cent of her commission to Art Lenders. “But if you don’t rent, you don’t sell. At least this way, renting out helps people to get to know what they like.”

Waite says holding out on buying has made each trip to a rental showcase more interesting.

“It’s quite a lot of fun,” she says. “My husband and I are certainly not pros. With most artists you talk to, it’s all about what you like. We’ve gotten to know our tastes and what artists and styles we like.

“There are some tremendously creative people around here,” she adds. “(Rental displays) are always something I’d go back to.”