Walking along Church St is a multisensory experience, with the enticing smell of fresh fruit, gaily coloured posters and sunny patios percolating with the hubbub of happy homos. But how often do we take the time to look up?
Nestled atop our Village’s street-level shops and eateries are a treasure trove of queer businesses, including the delightful Akasha Art Projects, located above Dudley Hardware. It’s an elegant space: all clean white walls and dark-chocolate wood floors — everything you’d expect from a contemporary modern gallery.
But displayed on the walls are some entirely unexpected pieces of art created by Julie Liger-Belair, whose current show features shadow boxes that blend vintage photos with found objects, delicate brush strokes and handmade metalwork. It’s edgy, evocative and just what gallery owner Kelly Kyle had in mind when she and her partner, Sonja Scharf, opened the place three years ago.
“It’s a real honour to be bringing a cultural element back into the Village and to provide a venue for this sort of work,” Kyle says. “There’s been a real void here since the O’Connor Gallery closed a few years ago.”
This fresh, airy space is actually Akasha’s second home, just across the hall from the tiny room in which Kyle and Scharf first dipped their toes into the world of retail art. It was a bold move, given the notoriously capricious ups and downs of art sales.
“We really were starving artists when we started the whole retail thing,” says Kyle, who has also worked as an art installer for private and corporate designers. “But I’m a real believer that if you jump, a net will appear.”
Sales of work like Liger-Belair’s or respected photographer Tony Hauser are an important part of Akasha’s business, but the gallery also offers an archival-level framing service, which uses the same pH-neutral materials that museums do to perfectly preserve paintings and photographs. They’ve framed everything from nostalgic football jerseys to seriously pricey art collections.
“All the materials we use are acid-free. There’s nothing that will harm or prematurely age the work, which is particularly important for our clients who are artists themselves, and for those people who are building an art collection. What we’re producing are little realms within which the art is surviving. There’s a real philosophy of caretaking behind it.”
And if all that didn’t keep this dynamic duo busy enough, it turns out they’re also part owners in the hardware store over which their gallery resides.
“We’re really passionate about being a part of the Village and contributing to its community and personality,” Kyle says. “Sonja and I are entrepreneurial spirits, and it’s a real privilege to be a part of a vibrant, exciting place.”