Elissa Cristall has always felt a passion for art. When she was young she’d play hooky from school; unlike most teens with time on their hands, she’d hop a bus to Stanley Park, where she’d sketch trees.
“I’m not an artist, but I always had a feeling, a natural instinct, for art. It just fascinated me,” says Elissa. “I could look at a picture for hours.”
As owner of the Elissa Cristall Gallery on Vancouver’s Granville Street - an area known as “Gallery Row” - she gets to look at a lot of pictures. Elissa represents about fifteen Canadian artists, among them photographer Michael Levin, whose stunning works (seen behind her in photo) were featured in a recent exhibition at the gallery. It’s a bright, inviting space, made even more welcoming by the presence of Piper, Elissa’s eight-year-old Scottie dog - a regular at the gallery. He often sports the Knowledge Partner collar and leash that Elissa and her husband, Robert Harper, received as donors.
Elissa began collecting pieces by Canadian artists when she was in her twenties. She put on a couple of small art shows, too, but was discouraged when they only broke even; she now realizes this was quite an accomplishment for her first efforts. After achieving a university diploma in Urban Land Economics, Elissa’s career took her down a different route. Even then, she felt drawn to bringing art into people’s lives. While working in the office leasing business, she began placing art in workplaces and building lobbies.
“I thought ‘how can people work in a place without art?’ People were quite comfortable with traditional landscapes, so I liked to get something in there that was a little bit different. It was intriguing for me to watch their reactions. Maybe they didn’t like it at first, but then they’d talk about it, and they’d start to understand what the artwork was about. The more they saw in it, the more they loved it.”
Elissa opened her gallery in 1999. It’s more than a job - it’s her life, her passion and her hobby. She and Robert are avid art collectors, and when they do manage to get out of town, they visit museums and galleries. They both find time, though, to watch Knowledge. Elissa enjoys the mysteries because the characters are genuine and authentic. “It’s so much like real life,” she says. She also watches the arts documentaries on Masters and loves listening to Radio City concerts while curling up with a good book.
Appealing to “curious minds” is something Elissa strives for in her gallery, and she sees that same quality on Knowledge.
“It provides thoughtful, intelligent programming for independent thinkers who don’t feel compelled to follow the latest trends; who are objective and curious and interested in self-growth and discovery,” she explains. “You can learn something when you watch Knowledge. It’s such a refreshing alternative to commercial stations.”