Nathan Saxton takes his shows on the road, literally. Saxton, owner of Borealis Arts, a gallery and framing company, stages art events on others’ walls. Last month he presented the cycling-themed second annual VelociPrints Show within the rustic brick interior of Borderlands Brewing Company in downtown Tucson. The show featured 25 print artists, each interpreting the meaning of bikes and bike riding.
Partnering with other businesses is a win-win strategy. Saxton discovers and promotes local artists, and Borderland Brewing Company generates higher sales during the month-long show. Saxton began cooperating with other companies for his art shows two years ago for economic reasons.
“Using different venues in an economy where people aren’t spending a lot of money on art lowered my monthly expenses,” he said.
Borealis Arts stages three to four shows per year. Like VelociPrints, the shows are themed and coincide with other events that cater to the same audience. The bike meets art VelociPrints Show 2012 ran the month of November, at a time when local and visiting cyclists were preparing for and riding El Tour de Tucson, the annual cycling event that attracts more than 9,000 participants. Saxton opened the show on the same day and a few blocks away from the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association’s Fall Bike Swap.
“We were shooting for people to come to the show and have a beer after looking at bikes,” Saxton said.
Featured art is affordable, another aspect of Saxton’s business plan.
“Each print at the latest show sold for $40 unframed and Borealis Arts offered a discount for framing,” he said.
Saxton also incorporates a philanthropic aspect into his events. “We gave a portion of the proceeds to BICAS and El Grupo.”
He chose the two organizations because the mission of both dove-tailed with his show’s cycling theme. Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage (BICAS) uses salvaged bike parts to build community and promote both art and cycling. El Grupo is a youth cycling team that offers opportunities to participate in the sport to kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity.
More than 500 people attended VelociPrints 2012’s opening and Borderlands Brewing Company set a record for the most pints poured in one day. Saxton believes that when final sales figures are tallied this year will top last year’s VelociPrint Show which sold 225 prints and generated additional revenue from framing.
Saxton worked in the framing and gallery business for more than a decade before starting Borealis Arts in 2008.
“I love what I do. Every day I have an opportunity to see a wide variety of art and artifacts,” Saxton said.
He had been orchestratrating several shows per year, primarily featuring local artists. But as the economy soured and the demand for art fell, maintaining gallery space was becoming financially unrealistic. In 2010, Saxton modified his business plan and moved Borealis Arts to a smaller space where the company continued to offer framing.
Saxton models his shows on Artcrank, a Minneapolis-based business that produces cycling-themed shows of posters throughout the country in partnership with other cycling businesses.
Saxton, who is a cyclist, and his wife Brandi, a print artist, attended several Artcrank shows and were inspired both by the art and the business model.
“They’ve become mentors to me,” Saxton said.
Artcrank offered Borealis Arts logistical advice on how to create its own events in Tucson.
Growing out of his love of bikes and seeing Artcrank’s success, Saxton decided to use cycling as the theme of Borealis Arts first partnered show.
In addition to the two cycling-themed print shows, Borealis Arts staged 520:365 in August, a show that celebrated Tucson’s summer.
“It was designed for people who stayed in town during our hot months. For people who spent 365 days in area code 520,” Saxton said.
The show featured art Saxton had either collected or commissioned during the previous year.
“The paintings, drawings and prints, conveyed the feelings of living in the desert during intense heat,” he said.
Upcoming Borealis Arts events include a soccer-themed print show in February, coinciding with Major League Soccer spring training and the 2013 Desert Diamond Cup.
“We also will stage another 520:365 show in August 2013, for all of us who survive Tucson’s summers,” Saxton said adding that he is currently seeking venues and art for both shows.