March 1st is an exciting day. It will be most Reginans’ first chance to see the new art space containing Artful Dodger Cafe, TAE Contemporary Art Gallery and Windhover Artists and Events on Osler and 11th Avenue. From 2-5pm there will be a media launch and sneak peek of the space.
I was fortunate enough to get a tour with Executive Director Carol Cairns last week.
Follow after the jump for portions of our conversation and more pictures
When I first heard about this project I was reminded of Larry Beasley’s Design Regina lecture where he discussed the role of Towers of Learning as nodes of informal education and community building in Brazil. The idea of a multidisciplinary, spatially varied arts, culture and food focused establishment in the heart of Heritage neighbourhood posed so many exciting possibilities and some challenges.
Executive Director Carol Carins had no trouble seeing the Tower of Learning concept line up with her vision; that everything in the building be done with a sense of artistic process. She described it as a soft sell on the arts: a comfortable place for the public and accessible for the community. The building embodies the idea of art in everyday life: from watching a baker create a pizza to-order to watch the process of a sketch. There are plans for formal lessons but at the core of the project is a constant informal sharing of skills, stories and ideas.
It is important to Carins that her space engage the community along 11th avenue. There is a feeling that Heritage is coming into a transition and it is hoped 1631 11th Avenue will be the place to connect and showcase the diverse creative talents in the Heritage area.
There are challenges to. Turning over stereotypes about the community being one. That’s mostly external but there are internal issues, most acutely articulating the neighbourhood pride that’s just under the surface. Carins hopes her renovated Pisch block can change the mindset of residents and visitors. Reinforcing the qualities of the area while respecting the struggles of some area residents.
The space consists of 3 sections. The first floor, about 5400 sq ft will house the TAE Contemporary Art Gallery, Gift Shop and Artful Dodger Cafe. Capacity of the Artful Dodger will be 145 people. The cafe will be open from 8am – 11pm everyday, changing through the day from fresh baking and coffee bites before work in the morning to busy lunchtime eatery and then licensed night spot.
An outdoor patio in summer is in the works. Carins has already sourced railings to cordon off a portion of the wide 11th avenue sidewalk. Awnings above the shop windows will provide shade.
The TAE Contemporary Art Gallery will host shows as well as be a place for artists to sell their work. Gallery programing, art and music lessons, are examples of formal education opportunities the TAE may facilitate. There are plans for inter-disciplinary partnerships to help fuel informal inspiration like interpretive dance to music.
The second floor consists of offices and studios for the likes of Queer City Cinema, a jewelry co-op and local band Library Voices.
There is currently a book drive to create an arts and culture library on the second floor. The library’s already benefited from one donation of a large collection of literature and other books. Click on the link above to learn how to donate books. Along with books a camera library is planned, with both film and photo cameras available.
The least certain space is the large basement where all sorts of nooks and crannies are available for creative people with ideas. Carins spoke about how often artists become inspired as they toured the basement. Ideas for the basement include a video production space, a printing studio (a press is already in place, see below) and a place for pottery production.
The printing press is a good example of a conscious effort by Carol and her team of reusing, recycling, refurbishing and searching auctions to find the nuts and bolts need to get this project going. Recycled paint is through out and everything from sinks to pianos have been rescued and renovated.
The renovation work has been accomplished by a construction team with help from artists working on spaces they’re renting.
Employing artists is another goal Carins holds close. By having commercial components along with studio spaces and offices artists have an opportunity to earn a regular wage near where they work.
It was important to Carol to harness the built-in energy and history of the building. She had worked with heritage quality structures before and could not imagine her artists centre in a building without good bones. The Pisch Block was one of three buildings they’d looked at. She was surprised so much of it was available. It was the only building large enough for her vision and, crucially, the location was wonderfully in Heritage neighbourhood filled with artists.