The Junction’s ARTiculations may be the new kid on the block, but it’s slowly settling in as a destination art store, workshop space and gallery.
When ARTiculations first opened, it wasn’t quite as auspicious a beginning as co-owners Heather Phillips and Miki Rubin may have been hoping for. While they had initially expected to be the sole dealer of art supplies in The Junction, somehow competitor Above Ground was opening up just doors away, right around the same time. Now, seven months later, with a bit of perspective, ARTiculations’ young owners feel that the competition has helped them hone their vision.
“We actually found out the day after we signed our lease and did our major orders and we were like, oh, this changes everything,” says Phillips, “It was really scary at first, but then, in a way, it pushed us to focus more on what we wanted, which was to pick really beautiful, specific art supplies—we picked a nice selection of things that we liked and also things that are hard to find. We definitely wanted to carry way less than other stores. We were sticking to products that we had used, trying to buy Canadian when we could and buying quality. And we always saw it as being a retail space, workshop space and gallery.”
Phillips and Rubin have been collaborators in one way or another for years now. “We figured out that we were a good team—we have skills that complement each other,” says Phillips. The pair first met while studying sculpture at York University and then both went on to work for a local artist. “Miki and I were studio assistants for Nell Tenhaaf. She’s a new media, interactive artist and we built some of the sculptural components of her work,” she says, “and then that came to its natural end. We share a studio in the neighbourhood and we were thinking about what we wanted to do next, and there was a lack of art supply stores here. We also wanted to have a workshop space where we could teach outside of an institutional setting and open it up and be accessible.”
Their ties to the neighbourhood have played a central role in the development of ARTiculations. “I’ve lived here for five years and I also had a job in the neighbourhood, so I had a pretty good feeling about who was here and what people wanted,” says Phillips, “And then Miki came along a few years after me. If you’re going to put your heart into something like this—we’re pretty invested in The Junction, so it made sense to do it here.”
It was through this engagement with the community that they found their space. “It kind of came word of mouth from working in the neighbourhood and knowing other business owners that this might potentially become available,” explains Phillips, “The way it happened, we contacted them, but I worked at the Benjamin Moore paint store and I was talking to somebody about this gorgeous space in neighbourhood and how I hope they get back to us because we really love it. I didn’t realize that the landlord’s wife was in the store looking at paint chips and she said, ‘You’re talking about my building, let’s set up a meeting.’ I think that part of it was that they were invested in what happened in the space and they liked what we were trying to do. Anybody would have jumped at the chance to open something here, so we’re really thankful.”
After finding the right space, the timeline between signing the lease and opening for business was rather tight. “We had a two-week turnaround,” says Phillips. “I was already making orders for supplies and storing them in my apartment,” says Rubin, while Phillips was receiving the shipments at the paint store she worked at during the day. “They were super supportive,” she says.
Phillips and Rubin continue to make ties with the neighbourhood and differentiate themselves from the local competition through the varied workshops they run—everything from terrarium creation to hardcover bookbinding. “We are expanding into the basement sometime in the summer, which will allow us to run workshops which we can’t run up here, like screen-printing and other printing workshops, stone carving, larger size life drawing sessions and things like that,” says Phillips.
The idea of life drawing in a basement might seem a touch gloomy, but this isn’t a typical basement. “It used to be a barbershop downstairs, so there’s nine foot ceilings, terrazzo floors and a welcome sign into the barbershop—it’s amazing! I think the workshops are just going to keep growing as that space opens up to us,” says Phillips.
As for the relationship with Above Ground, it’s not been an antagonistic one. “We went over to them just before they opened. We were both sitting here and we were like, ‘We just need to go over and say hi.’ It’s not some Western movie showdown,” says Phillips. “They’re just trying to do what we’re trying to do—but they started 30 years earlier and this is their first branch-off shop.”
If anything, it’s become more collaborative than competitive, with each shop regularly referring customers to the other. “Because we’re not on the subway line, people don’t just get off the bus and go to one shop and leave again. Nobody does that, you always do the circuit,” says Phillips, “The more we carry different stuff, the more we help one another.”
As much as Phillips and Rubin have been focused on educating others, owning ARTiculations has been an opportunity for them to learn as well. “We’ve learned a ton since we’ve opened. Leaving school and then getting a job at a paint store, sometimes you can feel a little bit creatively stifled,” says Phillips, “Doing all these workshops and talking to people about art every day has totally opened us up within our own artwork outside of the store. I have more ideas now then I’ve had in the last three years.”
ARTiculations, 2928 Dundas Street West. #JNC 416-901-7464.