Turning a forgotten alleyway into a living piece of art

Learn how the owner of this Ontario-based gallery brought his collection online.

You never know when you might just turn a street corner and stumble upon a work of art. For David Dossett, artist and owner of Martello Alley, this very idea is what brought him to transform a dark alleyway in Kingston, Ontario Canada, into a one-of-kind exhibit.

The unique collection of local art, artisan works and decor can be viewed year-round, consisting of an alleyway from the street, leading to a courtyard and indoor gallery. By using Matterport to create an interactive digital twin, visitors have the chance to “walk” around the galleries and see the art in a more engaging way, highlighting the vivid backdrops that make Martello Alley so unique. 

Amid the uncertainty of 2020, learn how Dossett used Matterport to share Martello Alley with visitors around the world.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you?

Before COVID-19, all of our sales were walk-ins. When we shut our doors mid-March of 2020, sales dropped substantially. Although our online sales were much higher than they had been prior to the pandemic, total sales were only about 20% of normal for that time of year.

When we reopened in June, we saw sales come right back up, and from that point forward, sales were very strong — 2020 ended up being our best year to date. However, whenever complete or partial shutdowns happen, sales drop again. It’s like a roller coaster. Although we’re currently in our third shutdown, this time it’s different. With our 3D virtual shops in place, our sales are back at pre-pandemic levels for this time of year.

Q: What inspired the 3D capture of Martello Alley?

Although I’m an artist, I made my living as a programmer and analyst. I love exploring new technologies, and it seems that almost every day there’s some sort of new, groundbreaking innovation.

I was always looking for a way to make the virtual store more interactive. I wanted to let the customer define the store visit, instead of me leading the shopper through a traditional video walkthrough. With the uncertainty and unease so many people felt, I decided to take the plunge and offer virtual shopping,

Q: What are the “must-sees” you want visitors and customers to explore and why?

At Martello Alley, our gallery space is unusual because it’s an outdoor and indoor space and is open all year. It’s bright and colorful. The gallery consists of an alleyway from the street which leads to a courtyard and, finally, an indoor gallery. The alley features panels that resemble windows and doors, so it looks like a narrow French street, complete with faux-French business signs including “cordonnerie” and “patisserie.”

Martello blog image 1

The panels are opened and closed daily, and when they are open, they reveal our prints and reproductions which are for sale outside, similar to old Québec’s Rue du Trésor, or like art alleyways of France where artists display their works in laneways. Beyond the alleyway is a beautiful courtyard which serves as a patio in the summer. In the courtyard, you’ll find two large steel structures: a lighthouse and a buoy. They’re not real — just facsimiles. I designed them to conceal the waste and recycling as well as the grease trap for the restaurant next door. 

Q: What’s the one thing you want visitors to take away after exploring the 3D tour?

The 3D tour helps us share our story with visitors: Art is not just something inside a gallery — it’s everywhere, and it’s transformative. It changes people and places for the better. Art can turn a bleak space into a wonderful and inspiring place.

As a lifelong resident of Kingston, I’m passionate about our city experience for its visitors as well as its residents. 

Martello blog image 2

Q: Do you have any future plans for capturing more spaces with Matterport?

I’m glad you asked! Martello Alley and Martello on Brock are retail stores that sell local art and operate as collectives. But more than that, they’re a destination when visitors come to our city. We don’t just sell art — we tell our story and the stories of our city. We will be using our Matterport spaces to create virtual tours of points of interest, as well as tours of the annual ice art show, Froid’Art - Art on Ice, which we started in 2015 and hold every winter.

The process to make the 300 lb ice art blocks is expensive and highly involved — you can get a glimpse of it here.

Martello blog image 3

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

Matterport is surprisingly affordable and a very robust platform. I’m absolutely delighted with the product. Since we introduced it earlier this month, it has really increased our visibility, and the sales have more than paid the cost of putting our shops online. I cannot say enough about the product and there are so many things that I will be doing with it in the future


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