Many tourists come to Madeira with only cabin luggage. They are not bringing many things and don’t expect to leave with more. And then they buy a painting. In a frame. How come? Turns out, between Levada walks and poncha drinking they visit Caravel Art Center – where the art in Madeira is. And they can’t resist an urge to keep something meaningful and elegant from the island in the Atlantic ocean. Talking with the art center manager Svetlana Yurzditskaya.
Research shows that 13% of island visitors come here for culture and art. Out of 1.5 million tourists per year (pre-COVID and hopefully soon again), this creates a demand big enough for visual art. Also, travel to Madeira is more expensive than to similar destinations like the Canary Islands, so our tourists are better-off and more culture oriented.
How I got involved in Art in Madeira
Before moving to Madeira 10 years ago, back in St Petersburg I started thinking what I could do on the island. Creating something with my hands was a natural option. It was less about earning money and more about keeping myself busy.
So I started experimenting with decoupage and moved to Madeira with all the materials. Did more online training, attended workshops of experienced artisans during my trips to St Petersburg. The quality of the decoupage in Eastern Europe is higher, so I started selling my works here and got into the art business.
Our business partner first offered to take over a gift shop and then to manage an art center. It was very new to me. My competency was at the level of ‘like – don’t like’. But step by step, the universe was introducing the right people who have become my tutors. For example, Cefyn Embling-Evans – a huge talent, a cultural gem in Madeira. Some people stayed with us, some have left.
This was the starting point.
And then the success depends if you are doing it with love or not.
I felt it was my thing.
We Are Not The Biggest, But We Are Number One
We are not the biggest art gallery on the island. The public ones are bigger. Not even an art gallery in a pure sense – more an international art center, a cultural space organizing events.
But Tripadvisor says we are number one.
Caravel Art Center is open to Madeirense, to international artists living on the island and to foreign artists who want to exhibit here.
When artists bring their works, we evaluate the quality and the possibility of selling them to tourists.
Location is Very Important in Our Business.
Espaço das Artes, the ‘old gallery’ with many local and international artists working side by side used to be next door. And for about a year we ‘used’ their fame by being exposed to tourists who would visit their space.
When the government sold their building, the artists were looking for a place to stay and we offered them our space – almost for free but for a limited period. An art factory is an interesting idea but it would have restricted us from developing our concept of an art gallery.
Having your door painted is still very honorable
Now, most artists found permanent places, and the old gallery building in Zona Velha is abandoned. And we are open, so some people think that we are the old gallery but it is not exactly right.
Except Bordado da Madeira, embroidery, there is not much traditional art here. Madeira used to be poor so art was never the priority.
One of the most renowned artists in Madeira is Marcos Milewski. You can see his works in the gallery and also as huge murals in Funchal. But it is not traditional Madeirense art. He was born in Argentina, studied in France, lived in Spain.
Madeira art is a mixture of flows coming from many directions.
Nothing represents the modern art of Madeira better than the painted doors in Zona Velha. Arte de Portas Abertas project used to have governmental support but now it is on its own. House owners can ask artists to paint their doors but payment is little if any. A restaurant, for example, can offer paints and brushes and free meals.
But the steampunk door made by Jose Fernandes is on sale for 15 000 euros.
Having your door painted is still honorable.
Which Art Sells in Madeira
In Madeira, you can sell any art. From an aquarelle with island landscapes for 50 euros to a scandalous painting by Possolo for 15 000 euros. But the buyer will most probably be a foreigner.
We are confident about the quality of art pieces in our gallery. The artists we represent – Marcos Milewski, Heidrun Edsperger, Pedro Alves, Samuel Santos – would be evaluated high on an international market.
Vacant Niches in Art in Madeira
A huge vacant niche in Madeira is handcrafts and recycling art. In similar places in Madrid or Lisbon, you would see much more variety which is missing here.
We have a few producers but mostly foreigners. In our gift shop, you can check who the makers are, we never hide it. A girl from Belarus who lives in Porto. A young Russian man living in Madeira makes jewelry. A French woman here on the island makes sculptures from driftwood. Myself with not a very Portuguese last name making decoupage.
This niche has the potential to grow. I make calls in Facebook groups once in a while but don’t get much response from locals.
Madeirense don’t treat handcrafts seriously. It is a hobby for them, not a business. It influences the price. They ask for too much, but I understand them, don’t want to blame anyone. They work on a pice for 8 hours and not 30 min like a professional artisan who has an optimal workflow and creates several objects at the same time.
Where you can sell handcrafts in Madeira
Also, they don’t have many places that can accept their works. It is us and Saudades da Madeira. And some open-air city fairs. But in my opinion, it is a bad place for handicrafts. A blow of the wind and all your work is on the ground.
So the handcrafts market in Madeira is only starting.
I started studying art management when the pandemic broke out, and open up many interesting things. How to curate an exhibition, write a business plan. Which online editions to read to stay informed about art trends; where to see the results of recent trades.
When someone brings a painting for sale, we need to understand its value.
A vacant niche in Madeira is handcrafts
Finally, on a small remote island, you can have limited information. And can face the situation when someone brings works that are copied from other works. And you end up taking a forgery and risk your name. We’ve already been in such cases.
Now we are more protected from it.
A must-have souvenir from Madeira can be a ceramic fish or a lizard, a small aquarelle with Madeira landscapes, or even a postcard made by a local photographer or artisan. Otherwise, nobody will believe you’ve been on the island.
Art is a very deep thing. It reaches your heart and soul. And can open some things about you. Including wallets.