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Calgarians Gary and Corinne Funk abandoned their life in the city, hitting the road to interview artists across the country. (Gary and Corinne Funk)
Calgarians Gary and Corinne Funk abandoned their life in the city, hitting the road to interview artists across the country. (Gary and Corinne Funk)

Calgary couple ditches the finance industry to sell art on the open road Add to ...

Scores of city-dwelling Canadians daydream about ditching it all for a quieter, simpler life. In an ongoing series, The Globe talks to ex-urbanites who actually got out of town – for good. This week, a couple from Calgary hits the road.

Corinne Funk: We were living in Calgary and we were both financial advisers for the same company. Luckily, we get along really well. I had moved away and come back. The second time, I was there from 1990 to 2011. We had gone to a convention for our company in L.A. We were already having lifestyle unrest for a couple of years prior to that.

Both Gary and I have lived in large cities pretty much all our lives. But we didn’t really take advantage of the resources that a city has to offer. Our lifestyle didn’t suit that environment. We didn’t go to restaurants a lot. We didn’t go to nightclubs. We did do anything that the city had to offer, but we were surrounded by the things we felt were negatively affecting us, like the traffic and the noise and the pollution.

Gary Funk: Some people love living in the city. We were in the city for economic reasons.

Corinne: The only thing we could think of was an online business. You can take that anywhere.

Gary: We’re not bound to live in an economic stronghold and sacrifice one part of our life just to satisfy the other.

Corinne: We were on our way home from that financial convention in L.A. when I saw a sign that said “Artisan.” We started throwing ideas around and thinking about an online marketplace for artists in Canada.

Gary: We quit our jobs in May, 2011. We sold our house the following August. And we left on September on the road. We put all of our belongings in a storage box we built at a friend’s farm and headed west to do our first interviews from Alberta to B.C.

Corinne: We bought the van in April just before we quit our jobs. It just sort of made sense that while our website, artsquest.ca, was being developed we would go out and find artists and have that face-to-face connection. It’s been really super positive. So far, we have interviewed more than 130 artists from B.C. to Newfoundland and up to the Yukon and back.

Gary: We fed off the feedback and the excitement of the artists. It was so much fun meeting all these people across Canada. We got a lot of encouragement that we were doing the right thing. We haven’t had an income now for about five years. We’ve had equity from our house in Calgary and savings and investments. And we didn’t think it would actually take this long. We didn’t really think we would deplete our resources to this extent. We were also a little naive. When we went with [the idea for] this website it wasn’t just an existing business creating a website, we were actually creating a business along with it. It’s evolved over time, which is good, to the point where we know what we want it to look like.

Corinne: The original plan was, okay, we’ll go across Canada, do our interviews, come home in 2012, pick up our stuff from our friend’s farm and move to B.C., happily ever after. It really didn’t happen that way. Certainly there’s been some challenges but it just seems like maybe there’s some benefits to it taking this long, too.

Gary: We did waste a lot of time in 2012. The first time in 2012 we were on the road for five months. We went all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and back.

Corinne: We use the Internet and search for artists in the areas we are going to be visiting. Now we preplan, make arrangements, have an appointment. Being out on the road together took some getting used to because there’s 40-odd square feet of living space in our van. We don’t stay in hotels. We’ve got a stove and a fridge.

Gary: We just don’t have a toilet. That’s the biggest challenge on the road.

Corinne: We live in a rental house in Slocan, B.C. We’d like to buy something, but that’s a different stage down the road once we get our marketplace [up and running]. What we’re trying to do with our interviews is create a bit of a human-interest story and show that these people are just everyday people like everyone else. We chat about their art but it’s not the typical art interview. We like to create a story, a whole story, around the experience.

Gary: And we also want the public to see what goes into making art.

As told to Dave McGinn

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