A conversation with Cathy Cardon
If you’ve been following us for a while, you must know we’re big fans of Kunst in Huis. The service that allows you to loan out unique pieces of art for a certain price each month. From experienced artists to upcoming talent, it’s a great way to bring new life into your home. We were wondering how they’re coping with the crisis since all of their galleries are closed and their home deliveries are on halt. Enter, Cathy Cardon. Being the General Director of Kunst in Huis, she enlightens us how they’re approaching these tough times and if art is the answer when you’re stuck in quarantine.
Hi Cathy! First of all, how are you doing in these weird corona times?
All things considered, I am doing quite well. We have moved in December so this is an unexpected opportunity to enjoy our new home and garden. It is quite a challenge though to have both parents working at home with a 3 year old son who needs a lot of attention. He is having a hard time too, missing his friends, school and family.
Did you see it from a far – the lockdown etc – or did the measures surprise you?
Shortly before the lockdown I was convinced that Covid was nothing worse than a mere flu. But then 3 colleagues got sick and we learned from China and Italy that this was no ordinary illness. On Friday 13th March, our neighbours from Sint-Pietersabdij in Ghent told us they had to close down all public spaces, including the space where our gallery is located. At that point we realised this was serious business and we decided to close all 4 galleries as from Saturday. On Wednesday, we stopped home delivery as well because at the time we could not protect our co-workers and clients sufficiently. From then on, we followed every development and made predictions on how the crisis would affect our business. So far, our predictions were right on target.
Right now, we are preparing the restart of home delivery and the reopening of our galleries. The most challenging aspect right now is to find enough masks, gloves, gels etc, as everyone is searching those.
Are you adapting your way of working to the crises? Are you approaching things differently?
Some of our colleagues have been under the economic unemployment system since the very beginning, others have been working from home, and some do both, depending on their job. We have gotten used to having meetings through Teams, Zoom and the lot, and this works better than anticipated. Some colleagues whom I could never convince of the benefits of working from home, are now asking if they can continue doing this after things get normal again. The most complicated thing to deal with though, is the social aspect and especially the difference between colleagues who are sitting alone at home with time on their hands, compared to others who are working very hard and/or have to cope with home working and kids. We haven’t paid enough attention to the social aspect from the start, but we are trying to make up for this now. We started a weekly Zoom apero and internal newsletter to keep in touch.
As for our business: right now our customers can enjoy the artwork they have at home but they cannot change it. I am very curious what will happen next. Is everyone waiting anxiously for a changeover? Some people will probably stop their subscription due to financial reasons. But we are convinced that a lot of others will continue to support young artists – and to enjoy something interesting to look at, at the next lockdown.
Any ideas that were already there that are/were suddenly gaining momentum?
We have been preparing a digital makeover for some time. This step is suddenly more important than ever. Even if we can reopen our galleries soon, a reservation system will be necessary to guarantee social distancing. But if more Covid waves and lockdowns lie ahead of us, the transformation we need to be able to continue our business may be bigger. As it is, we cannot provide home delivery for all artworks, but can we devise a plan to help our customers differently if coming to the gallery is not a certainty anymore? What about showing our artists’ work? What can we do for them online?
The digitising of culture and digital art consumption is gaining momentum. Lots of museums offer digital expos and viewings. Do you think this is temporary or is this here to stay?
I think digital art viewing will surely gain momentum thanks to the Covid crisis, but the current tools are often immature. The digital experience can and should get better in the future. If we cannot travel like we used to, this might even compensate for viewing some of the major artworks in the world we might never be able to see again, and in a lot more detail. I think you can compare it to football: if you watch football on TV, you can get commentaries on details and reruns you cannot see in the stadium. But nothing can beat the real live experience. It gives you something else: goosebumps. This is true for art, too.
How are your customers reacting?
Since the lockdown, we are trying to support our artists as much as we can through sharing content about their work and projects. Projects they have done for Kunst in Huis, buts also projects they are doing now relating to Covid. This content is much appreciated by our customers. In the nex few days we’ll hit off 2 campaigns asking for the public’s support. Either by buying an Art Cheque now to be used later on, or buying an artwork of a curated selection of artworks under € 1.000 with free home delivery.
As for our future customer relations, we will have to wait and see. I expect some people will cease their subscriptions and others will take on new subscriptions. As for our business clients, we are not sure what to expect – no one knows what the economic impact will be on them, and neither if decorating work spaces and meeting rooms will still be important in the future. On the other hand, the wellbeing of co-workers will gain more importance, I think. Research shows that art can help with that. I hope that companies who can afford art rental, will understand the huge importance of their support for our artists and will continue – or start! – their engagement. And maybe they should offer a Kunst in Huis subscription to their employees, in order for them to better cope with the next lockdown. We will certainly look into that!
Do you think there is room for Kunst in Huis in the near future? Now that everyone is forced to stay home, I would assume that KIH is relevant even more than ever before or am I seeing this wrong?
Having art to look at when you’re stuck at home is a big YES! At home I am surrounded by artworks, and looking at them gives me pleasure every single day. Even if multiple waves of Covid wash over us, it should be feasible for Kunst in Huis to make a regular artwork changeover possible for our customers. As mentioned before, the digital transformation we are preparing is an essential step to make choosing art a fun activity in itself, and to rethink the way our customers can obtain a work of art in the near future if a gallery visit is not always possible.
Kunst in Huis has always supported local talent but how are these artists coping in corona times? And how can we (as a society) help them?
Many artists have currently no income through art, and no income from working in a bar or restaurant or giving art lessons as a freelancer, which a lot of them are used to doing to make ends meet. So financially, the current crisis is striking them very hard, and none of the government benefits are made to measure for them and other self-employed people in the arts. On the other hand, they make the most of the current situation which gives them time and inspiration to work. We see a lot of artists working on new artworks and projects, both Covid related and not. Let us hope they will be able to sell their work after the lockdown and to reap the benefits of the crisis after all. We will surely help them with that. And society can help them too, of course, by renting or buying their artwork.
And finally, do you have any tips for our readers on how to pass their time?