Local Art as Experience at Elephant in the Attic
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Local Art as Experience at Elephant in the Attic

Through eclectic curating and collaboration, this new Dundas West art shop is doing things differently.

Accessibility is a challenge in the art world. Fresh-faced artists have a difficult time finding an audience, or a place within the art community—and art enthusiasts have a difficult time finding those underrepresented artists. There are a few places in Toronto, though, that are bridging this gap. They incubate young artists, give them a place to sell their work, and connect them with other artists in the community.

Take Elephant in the Attic, a tiny shop-cum-marketplace featuring lost treasures and the work of local artists. The shop’s owner and curator, Caitlin Brubacher, makes prints from rare and unloved books. She builds and restores custom frames. She curates art as experience, and she’s dedicated to combining multidisciplinary art forms from emerging artists.

On display at the shop is Brubacher’s latest exhibit, called Self-Help. It comprises seven sections that range in subject matter from meditation to masturbation—each containing its own narrative that speaks to the exhibit’s overall theme. In each section, you’ll find Brubacher’s prints alongside rare and custom-made artwork. “We’ll make little worlds and we’ll put all the vendors’ works—we’ll curate them—into these worlds,” she says. “So, it’s like you’re blurring the line between high art and low art, gallery and store. Suddenly, now, this object is next to this other thing and it means something different.” Currently, Brubacher’s exhibit includes metal sculptures, necklaces, oil paintings, and silkscreens.

Speaking with Brubacher about the featured artists, one thing becomes clear: she finds art everywhere. Take her neighbour, a metal worker, for example. He helped with renovations to Elephant in the Attic and has been a fixture at the shop ever since. Though his trade is practical, he’s also dabbled in metal sculptures for his own collection. Brubacher convinced him to put the artwork on sale at the shop, marking his first public display. This isn’t a one-off story: Brubacher collects artists, often finding them in unexpected places. Many of the artists here aren’t selling elsewhere—Elephant in the Attic is their first rodeo.

Brubacher hopes to make Elephant in the Attic a community hub, a place for artists of all media to collaborate. Brubacher herself started as a playwright, and she knows a small shift in perspective can turn someone from craftsperson into artist. Her own story is proof: In a rut while living in New York City, Brubacher began a cycle of procrastination that entailed collecting prints and putting off writing—until, somewhere along the line, Brubacher realized that she found print collecting more fulfilling than writing. “Sometimes, I think if we listened to what we want to do when we’re procrastinating, we’d actually do better work,” Brubacher says.

She went from collector to curator, taught herself frame restoration, and began selling her work at markets in Brooklyn. When Brubacker moved home to Toronto, she met other local artists and decided to open a space of her own. Elephant in the Attic has only been open since September, but Brubacher already has plans for the future. She has a pop-up market in mind for the basement space, a book reading for the front window, and a nook full of wonderful old frames.

Brubacher hopes Elephant in the Attic’s eclectic and accessible nature will fill a void in the Toronto art community, both for artists and art enthusiasts. Pop by the shop to see her artwork or tell her about your own. Who knows—you might be her next stumble-upon.