Fishers’ Loft: an artist, author and artisan paradise

By Peggy Geddes

“We compensate the artists by giving them 100% of the sale price because we had the benefit of hanging the art. It is a big ethical issue for us. If you engage the arts to enhance the appeal of an establishment, then you have used their art towards that end and you need a way to compensate the artist.” This is the philosophy of John Fisher, owner of Fishers’ Loft Inn and Conference Centre. Each year the Inn sells between $20,000 – $30,000 dollars in art on behalf of local artists.

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Art belonging to local artists is showcased in the conference room.

Fishers’ Loft is viewed as the largest art gallery in Newfoundland and Labrador. It showcases approximately 300 pieces of art by local visual artists with another 40 soon to be added. Around seven to eight thousand people from around the world visit Fisher’s Loft which is tucked away in plain sight on Trinity Bay and has a five star rating by Ship Cove and is recommended in Where to Eat in Canada, 2013.

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Skerwink Trail adjacent to Fishers’ Loft Inn and Conference Centre.

zeebigbang interviewed Fisher to find out how he successfully integrates the arts community into his awarding winning Inn and Conference Center.

“Our guests come here to stay at an inn and they discover all this art while they are here. We do not put pricing on the art – we maintain two or three catalogs which are available throughout the inn that lists the information about the art, the artist and pricing,” explains Fisher. “We have been featuring local art since we began. We started with four rooms and continued to build for what is now 17 years. From the time we built those first rooms we started hanging art and that became a real signature piece,” says Fisher.

Fisher also integrated the craftsmanship of local artisans into Fishers’ Loft, including the furniture.

“All of our wood furniture is handmade by Mike Paterson who, in my opinion may be one of the best furniture makers in the country. At just a few minutes away our guests see the craftsmanship and many of them then visit his shop and buy furniture for their homes,” says Fisher. “Working together we have provided economic benefit to the visual and craft artists. This is a big part of what we do.”

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Local furniture makers design and manufacture furniture for Fishers’ Loft.

Fisher explains, “Our view is the stronger you make the arts community the better we all are. If you are running a business like this or a school or hospital or any other business we just need to be working to make the cultural part of our existence a much healthier one. I think that often gets lost in modern day commerce. It is all about economies of scale, it is all about sameness. And it stops us from thinking,” said Fisher.

Fisher went one step further and reached out to the literary community.

“At the inn people only stay for two or three nights so you can’t read a novel but you can read an essay, or a poem or something like that and you can look at art – so we needed a literary journal to put it on our guests’ bedside,” explains John. Fisher along with friends, business leaders and two well-known Newfoundland authors Michael Crummey and Lisa Moore recently shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, put together a not-for-profit organization and launched  Riddle Fence.

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Fisher worked with local authors to start the literary journal, Riddle Fence.

Fisher says Riddle Fence is now considered to be among the better literary journals in Newfoundland. “For many famous authors the first time they saw their work published was in a journal. These publications are very important to emerging writers, who in time, often become quite well known.”

Commitment to combining business with the arts

Fishers’ Loft has helped to establish links between the business community and the arts community in many different ways. “When I went to raise money for the literary journal Riddle Fence I had not realized how difficult it was. We needed to do a huge amount of education of the business community to get them to consider their participation and not just money but expertise. Sighting the fond historical ties between St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Ireland John invited the CEO of Business to Arts in Ireland to be a guest speaker to the business community. “We met with 50 of our top business leaders. From that initiative we created Business and Arts Newfoundland and Labrador (BANL). Early forecast projects that it will bring about $3 million new dollars for the arts into Newfoundland and Labrador both urban and rural places.

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A glimpse at one of the traditional buildings at Fishers’ Loft Inn.

For the past nine years Fishers’ Loft and the Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador host an annual “Reading Series” for Newfoundland authors. Writers are invited to share a reading of their original work scheduled each fall season before the evening meal at Fishers’ Loft. “Our reading series is called, “Just Before Dinner” and it is a really nice way to give a fairly sumptuous experience to the writers who are all from Newfoundland an opportunity to sit in front of an audience of typically 30-40 people,” explains John.

“It is not just about money it is about getting people on boards and directors and expertise and also teaching the arts organizations how they can provide services of value to corporations whether it is a promotional value or whether it is something for their employees to get engaged with. As a business we are committed to supporting the arts in any way that we can and it is a good fit for our kind of business. We have had fundraisers for Opera on the Avalon, a new opera company we have out here in St. John’ and they have been hugely successful. This place is coming alive now. The oil and gas guys have moved in and it is a new economy,” explains John.

A unique place

National Geographic Traveler’s Stay List recognized Fishers’ Loft as one of 15 best places to stay in Canada. “Everything we do here including our 25 staff, our location, the food and the art all speaks to what Newfoundland is all about. We are all about doing something that is unique and special,” says Fisher. “Port Rexton is named after the Rex family who first set upon here around 1790. We have three direct decedents of the Rex family that work for us. It is the whole thing about ‘uniqueness of place’. You want to go to some place that is unique. That is why we travel.”

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Spectacular view of Trinity Bay from Fishers’ Loft Inn.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council awarded John and his wife Peggy the 2013 Patron of the Arts award. “We don’t see ourselves as Patron of the Arts but as ‘partner’ with the arts. We work alongside existing artists and help anyway that we can.” For instance, the Hollywood film, The Shipping News (2001) was filmed in their backyard.

For more information go to Fishers’ Loft website.

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