Like many businesses, when COVID-19 hit, I-Hos Gallery in Courtenay, B.C. was forced to reduce staff and had no funds for marketing. Manager Ramona Johnson, who has run the Indigenous art gallery since it opened 25 years ago, turned to the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program, and Indigenous Tourism BC and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
“VICTRP has provided us with the reassurance that we are doing the right things and the best we can for the situation we are in,” says Johnson. “What really helped was meeting with a Marketing Program Expert to have that third-party help guide me in developing a new marketing plan.”
With the recovery funding I-Hos received, they hired a consultant to help with social media and to encourage customers to shop online. Johnson has been amazed by the response, “Launching our online shop has been remarkable. Our social media impressions and engagement is up 600 per cent. We previously shipped internationally, but now we are truly shipping worldwide.”
Johnson also attributes this success during the pandemic to media relations. “Being involved in articles about B.C.’s Indigenous arts and culture, such as Cowichan knitting for example, is bringing us so much more exposure and that translates to sales,” she says.
Thanks to the support I-Hos has received, the gallery has been able to stay relatively resilient. When asked what she is hopeful for this year, Johnson says, “That we can get back to offering workshops and cultural events.” Sharing the Indigenous cultures of Vancouver Island first hand with the world is what Ramona Johnson and I-Hos Gallery do best, after all.