Why We Started The Next Canvas
I have always longed to do something that brought together the vibrant and exotic elements of my native Ethiopia (the land of my father) and the ever changing and exciting world of the internet - something that was half a development initiative and part an entrepreneurial venture (or an adventure!) - powered by a dose of passion. Thus, the birth of The Next Canvas - www.thenextcanvas.com - an online art gallery that encourages and supports emerging Ethiopian artists and provides them with a platform through which they can bring their unique creations to the world.
The love of art and culture breathes life and love into the relationship I have with my husband, Jason. After having seen many beautiful galleries and exhibitions together in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia, we realized that there was very little in the way of Ethiopian artwork shown beyond Ethiopia’s borders. Like so much of Africa, the true style and sensibility of Ethiopian art and culture remains virtually unknown by most people who like us, are not “experts” or “critics” of art. From this awareness came the idea for The Next Canvas - and we started our online gallery about nine month ago. We wanted to use the power of the internet and social media to shine a light on the beauty, the elegance and the incredible grace of Ethio-art and the talents of so many young Ethiopians who have much to offer to the art world.
Today, The Next Canvas works with 19 young and emerging Ethiopian painters - introducing their work to the wider global market and enabling them to enjoy international exposure for their art; working towards creating African contemporary art footprints in the international art scene. Our main passion is to nurture, promote and encourage the creative development of these emerging talents - enabling them to produce one-of-a-kind paintings that embody the heritage of this unique East African country.
Mahlet Birhanu (right) and Mulugeta Gebrekidan (left) are two of the 19 talented Ethiopian artists we have the pleasure to work with. Meet our artists here.
What We Want to Do Next
Art is not an easy vocation in Ethiopia. Like in so many countries around the world, being an artist is not for the faint-hearted - but the challenges of walking-the-artisitic-line in Africa (and specifically in Ethiopia) are further compounded by lack of materials that artists need to produce their artworks and sustain their artistic growth. Underfunded artistic venues and outlets as well as a-less-than enthusiastic local market makes it nearly impossible for the young artists to thrive and continue with their creative process.
There is no doubt that interest for contemporary African art is surging internationally. There is a marked increase in the number of international institutional buyers and private collectors wishing to buy african art - both for its aesthetic as well as investment value. But, unfortunately, Ethiopian (and most Africa nation's) local markets are still mainly ungenerous to local artists. The subtext remains that Ethiopian artists’ work gains value as they transition from the local to international markets - but one would hope there would be a roll over effect for the local market as well.
Our dream for The Next Canvas is to be able to increase the presence of Ethiopian art in art museums and in homes of private collectors world wide. We want The Next Canvas to be more than an online gallery - we want to build and sustain The Next Canvas Konjo-Village in Ethiopia (Konjo translates to mean Beautiful in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia), a space where young, emerging artists will be mentored by established artists to keep their inspiration alive and where they can gain access to crucial materials and resources they need to keep on creating, as well as provided with skills and tools they require to market their art locally as well as internationally. Our dream is also to establish a brick and mortar gallery in the United States dedicated to art by emerging artists from Ethiopia and other African nations. We want to contribute in our way towards creating tomorrow’s prominent talents of Ethiopian and African contemporary art.
A Little Abut Me…
I am not an art expert, nor a critic - but an avid art-enthusiast. I’m a mother to a beautiful eight year old daughter - wife, sister, friend, daugther. I was born in Russia, my mother's homeland, but the majority of my work life was spent in Ethiopia - the homeland of my father. My work with the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Save the Children programs in Ethiopia introduced me to the intricate world of health communications, enabling me to work on numerous behavioral change campaigns that address health epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculoses; as well as development programs that construct community schools, providing clean water to children and families in rural Ethiopia, and making sure that girls are provided with equal education opportunities as their brothers. I think this is what makes me a passionate enthusiast for Ethiopian people and culture. Coincidentally, Ethiopia is also where I met my American husband - Jason. I feel like my journey from Russia, to Ethiopia and to my now new home the United States, has brought me so much in the way of appreciation for diversity and the need to behold and nurture what’s beautiful in all cultures - and art is simply the most fluid and universal language that transcends geographical boundaries.