Shoebox Art: The Gallery on Wheels

Sara Quine is bringing local art to a wider audience at prices that don’t cost more than your monthly grocery bill

Gwen Pemberton (she/her) // Arts & Culture Editor
Tin Raganit (they/them) // Illustrator

On the outside, Shoebox Art looks like a humble trailer, parked in the lot at City Centre Motel in Mt. Pleasant. Only the vibrant, geometric logo hints at what is contained within. Inside, the trailer is full of eclectic and funky art, all created by local B.C. artists. Quine drives the trailer around Vancouver and the lower mainland, appearing at events like the Vancouver Mural Fest and hosting pop-ups around town. Offerings in the gallery-on-wheels range from paintings, to postcards, to graphic novels, prints, stickers and more. And here’s the kicker: students like us can actually afford them.

Sara Quine is the owner, operator and curator of Shoebox Art, a small business and traveling art gallery operating in and around Vancouver. Quine is a CapU alum, graduating with a diploma in Motion Picture Arts in 2009. Following graduation, she spent 10 years working as a set dresser and buyer on various film productions, but eventually chose to pursue a different path. In 2022 she founded Shoebox Art. They are also a craft beer enthusiast and proud owner of a motorcycle named Cash, after their favourite action movie. “I’m Tango,” quips the small business owner. 

Quine’s goal is to provide a platform for emerging B.C. talent, with a particular focus on uplifting queer and female artists. They also stress the importance of selling size-friendly art at affordable prices, in order to foster an inclusive community around the local art scene.

Prior to founding Shoebox Art Quine says that they had noticed a gap in the gallery culture in Vancouver. For most, art created in and around the city was too expensive, and too large for the tiny studio apartments many Vancouverites found themselves in. Quine’s goal was to bring local art to a wider audience, noting the sense of belonging which pieces specific to a place or person can evoke. “Vancouver can feel so impersonal, it’s nice to have a piece that you’re like, this came from here—this is specifically of Vancouver,” they say.

This past September Shoebox celebrated one year of operation, holding a live event at Container Brewing Ltd. to celebrate. “It’s both unbelievable that I’ve only been open for a year, and also unbelievable that it’s already been a year,” says Quine. They say that they still have much to learn in their relatively new role as business owner, but are looking forward for what is to come. 

Quine says that running the gallery is “a one-person show.” They handle everything from business paperwork, to inventory, taxes, artist agreements, and of course, the layout of the gallery’s interior. Quine is grateful for the support and engagement of the artists she works with, hailing from all around the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. That being said, there have been some challenges to running everything on their own.

“Rents and leases here in Vancouver are absolutely cost prohibitive. Brick and mortar. I can’t imagine,” says Quine. Reflecting on their decision to base Shoebox out of a trailer, they note the high cost of operating a small business in Vancouver. Lower operating costs were part of what motivated Quine to make their business a mobile one. Although the smaller space means limited inventory, the current size is the most Quine can manage on their own. 

Recently, they had to turn down an opportunity to be a vendor at the PNE Fair. Faced with long work days and fearing that stock would run low, Quine decided to put her energy elsewhere. Despite the long hours and many hats they wear, Quine says they enjoy the uniqueness of the work. “Working in set dec has led me to a certain lifestyle, ” she says. “I don’t like a nine to five job. I don’t like going to the same place every day. it just doesn’t suit my personality.” With Shoebox, Quine is able to travel, and to use the skills she has developed through her study of production design, notably in the process of art curation.

When it comes to the kind of art they feature, Quine is looking for pieces that might have a harder time reaching an audience at traditional galleries. Shoebox Art tends to steer away from photography, landscapes and abstract art. They note that other local galleries have those genres covered, adding, “They’re not really leaning into this type of quirky and strange.” 

In addition to their commitment to showcasing unique local artists, Quine is dedicated to fair and transparent contracts. Showbox operates on a consignment basis, wherein 60 per cent of sales go to the artists and 40 per cent to Shoebox. Most traditional galleries operate on a 50/50 model. Ensuring fair compensation is also the reason that Quine has not yet hired anyone else at the gallery. “I really believe in paying people fair wages, and as it stands, I don’t have the fair wage to pay somebody to help me,” they say.

In the future, Quine hopes to bring on more hands and expand the business. Their next big step is launching a website and e-commerce store, which Quine says is essential for small businesses nowadays, especially ones like theirs without a flagship location. At the end of the day though, it all comes back to the community. Quine is adamant that the strength of the artists and those who support them are what have kept them going. It is why you will not find a single item over $400 at Shoebox Art. The joy for Quine is in helping patrons find art that will fit in their homes, no matter the size, at a price they can afford. The goal, they say, is to find each customer something “that is unique and that speaks to [them].”

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