A small town in southwest Saskatchewan is doing big things, providing support and community for Saskatchewan artists. Gravelbourg Artisan Co-op, also known as GAC, was formed in 2018 with an interest in being a retail and event space to help artists grow and scale their physical practice, particularly those who did not have the ability or finances to have their own storefronts or webpages. Their plans were, however, interrupted by the pandemic. Forced into a virtual space, the Co-op experienced an organic shift into being more community oriented. 

GAC operates through membership and is open to Saskatchewan artists. There are three types of memberships: Producing membership—where artists apply and are juried in, Supporting membership and Friends of the GAC (Patrons) membership tiers, each offering various perks.

The first event, COVID Sucks, invited the community to collect a canvas at the Co-op and express their feelings through drawing or painting. It provided a much-needed outlet during the early stages of the lockdown. 

The Co-op hosts two annual markets: A Happy Handmade Christmas and The Secret Garden Handmade & Vintage Market. Both markets host artist vendors across southern Saskatchewan and pull in 200 to 300 patrons. GAC also offers several member showcases, workshops, monthly maker nights, and an annual community art project and has partnered with many local groups and businesses to hold art-related events. 

Anna Smandych, President of GAC, shared the significance of those numbers.

Gravelbourg hannah bruce market - Picture showing Gravelbourg artisan co-op board of director showing covid sucks, the coops first event

“Gravelbourg is not on a major highway. You don’t just happen to be in Gravelbourg or pop in on your way for gas. Because of where we are, a person must intentionally come to Gravelbourg, so we are really proud of our turnout numbers.” says Smandych.

Currently, in a transitional period, Gravelbourg was housed in the Gravelbourg convent, which was recently closed. Nonetheless, the Co-op is thriving. 

Recently awarded a Microgrant from SK Arts in support of a youth exhibition, GAC invited kids 5-18 years old to submit their art, irrespective of medium, for an exhibition at the Maillard Cultural Centre—a space intentionally chosen to allow the public to feel more comfortable than a traditional art space. 

Smandych shared that having more youth membership and participation would diversify the Co-op’s member pool, play a supportive role in developing the next generation of artists and give GAC more visibility in Gravelbourg. She also hopes that this inaugural youth exhibition will allow us to learn more about the needs of young artists in the community.

Submissions have come from connecting with the community, schools, colleges and out-of-town.

“We’ve already gotten over 60 submissions, which is amazing because we were hoping to get at least 20,” laughs Smandych. “We are just blown away. We had no idea it would be this big!”

The exhibition will open on January 27, 2024. The community is invited to attend its opening reception at 2:00 p.m. and the exhibition will be open to the public until February 3, 2024, during the centre (Maillard Cultural Centre) hours.

Anna expressed gratitude to SK Arts for the grant, noting that grants are instrumental in putting on community art shows and supporting GAC's work.

Learn more about the Gravelbourg Artisan Co-operative on Facebook and Instagram.


Feature cover Photo: Artist, Hannah Cook and GAC friend, Bruce Haumann, at A Happy Handmade Christmas, 2023. Photographer: Ariel Haug

GAC Board of Directors and GAC's first community art project, COVID Sucks. Photographer: Unknown