A Trade-off Art Experience
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A Trade-off Art Experience

Three artist trading cards; Torontoist’s creation up top.

If an artist trading card event is held, and no one shows up or trades anything, does it make for a good night? Originating in Switzerland in the late 1990s, the idea of artist trading cards is simple: make an artwork the size of a hockey card, and swap it with others for their creations. There are few stipulations—such as the standard size, and no money being involved in the trade—but the concept seems to be centred around the value of the experience, of artists meeting, sharing, and mingling. Toronto’s monthly incarnation of this event may be missing this key element.
Tonight is the next installment of the Gladstone Hotel’s artist trading card night. Held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month, the free event invites artists, crafters, and anyone with the desire to make tiny pieces of art, to come and trade their works. Torontoist visited last month’s event to take in, and partake in, the activity.

A vacant booth in the Melody Bar.

We made a card of our own and headed to the Melody Bar at the Gladstone. Upon first arrival, we were struck by the predominance of empty tables, and lack of any discernible trading activity. There wasn’t a hint of the event at all; no signage, no cards, no art. We began to doubt the on-line listing, and decided to talk to the hostess at the front desk. She assured us that this was the night of the event, and that there were “at least two girls” there for the meet.
Determined to unearth this event, we resorted to asking the groups of people who were in the bar if they were there to trade cards. That’s right about when the evening’s other event started.

Gartina performs in the Melody Bar during the artist trading card event.

It seems that most people where there for superstar drag performer, Gartina, instead. Fortunately, that’s also when we found Nancy and Melissa, who had both made sets of trading cards and travelled generous distances on the TTC just for this night. They were glad to meet someone else who was there for the same purpose, and promptly presented an array of tiny, thoughtful creations.
Asked how they had heard about the event, Melissa said that she “came to the Come Up To My Room event last year, and has been a fan of the Gladstone since then.” She has kept up to date on their art listings, and thought this sounded fun. Neither of them had ever attended anything like this before, and doubted if they would come back for the next event. They suggested that some sort of more clearly designated area might make it more obvious who is there to trade. Suddenly regretting our decision to make and bring only one trading card, they each generously gave us an artwork in exchange for our solo piece. Our selection from Melissa was a joyously round, silhouetted bird, and from Nancy we received a painstakingly crafted collage that she refers to as “where business cards go to die.”
All in all, it was at least an interesting night. Gartina was pretty impressive, we got to awkwardly approach strangers (always fun), and we left with two new art cards. While the venue’s support for the event was undeniably lacklustre, it’s also up to the creative community to support it by attending. Should you attend? Definitely up to you, but it’s not for the timid or for those who like to know exactly what they’re getting into.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.