The sun is streaming into Beaver Galleries in Deakin. Quirky and elegant artworks are spotlit on the walls, and there’s a contented hum coming from the cafe as midweek visitors seek out tea in lavishly decorated pots and a lemon meringue slice that’s to die for.
After a long and challenging lockdown, the scene makes gallerist Susie Beaver very happy.
“The sun is shining, summer is upon us and the mood among everyone is so positive,” she says. “It’s all about hope, and colour and movement, nurturing people’s souls after a hard year.”
Beaver Galleries is unique in Canberra’s art world: a second-generation business now owned by Martin and Susie and founded by the late Betty Beaver and her husband Ron, it brings together exhibitions from significant artists, many of them locally based, with artisan gifts and an excellent cafe. It’s a welcoming mix for locals and interstate tourists alike.
“You see people walk in and just sigh with contentment,” Susie says.
What differentiates the gallery from others is that the proceeds go to the artist who made the objects when an item is sold.
“There is such huge satisfaction in being able to do that. Whenever we sell something, we sell it for the artist, so it’s a win-win.”
Founded in 1975, Beaver Galleries was a pioneer. In more recent times, the ACT Government has signalled that the city’s future as a creative hub is a growing priority for the local economy and the tourism sector.
Susie says that positioning Canberra as a tourist destination for the region and more broadly must include recognising the strong local arts sector and all it has to give.
“It’s not just about the national institutions as a destination. There’s so much available that you can do a lot in two days, even more in five days. There are big galleries and small galleries, there are wineries, there’s beer and amazing food.
“You can whip into the cinema, cafes and restaurants, and they are all high quality, all individual. It makes the collective offering really strong, so much stronger than when we first began with the gallery.
“Kids who grew up here are coming back and thinking, ‘wow, this is a great place to live.'”
She’s a keen advocate for the role that private business plays in the city’s growth, pointing to the strong support the gallery enjoys from business and private buyers because of their long history of working together.
Beaver Galleries worked hard to keep the audience and artists engaged during lockdown. An online series called Artists in Lockdown built a sense of community through shared hardships, a real challenge when Gallery staff could not work in the space, and art lovers could not see works in person.
The virtual response is part of a commitment to a growing community that Susie sees as characteristic of many Canberra businesses as they emerge from the pandemic.
“We are all looking forward to a better year ahead,” she says.
“There are wonderful things to do in Canberra, and we really try to embrace everyone who comes here. Nurturing is the best thing, whether it’s artists or art lovers who gain so much pleasure from seeing beautiful things.
“I think you can always do something better. You can always learn and grow. We must be doing something right to keep business going, so that means we need to share the passion we have for Canberra and the arts. That’s really important.”