Can art act as a magnet for business? Some major Montreal landlords are lending their properties to an experiment aimed at finding out.
Can art act as a magnet for business? Some major Montreal landlords are lending their properties to an experiment aimed at finding out.
Thirty vacant retail spaces are being made available to selected visual artists for three months as part of a new initiative designed to revitalize the city’s downtown core and showcase contemporary works of art — as well as the storefronts that house them.
Called Créer des ponts (or Building Bridges), the event begins Thursday and is due to run until Oct. 15. The pop-up workshops, most of which are at street level, will be open to the public free of charge. Ten glass cubes, deployed throughout the city, will also display artworks.
“This is about establishing a dialogue between two solitudes: commercial real estate, which has been hit hard by the rise of e-commerce, and emerging artists who are under-financed and don’t yet have a network that allows them to live off their art,” organizer Frédéric Loury, who runs the Art Souterrain festival, told the Montreal Gazette. “The pandemic seemed like the perfect time to do this.”
Vacant storefronts have been an issue in Montreal for years, and the problem was made worse by COVID-19, which pushed many consumers to shop online and shun physical stores. Months before the pandemic, a commission on empty retail spaces recommended putting together temporary initiatives to fill the vacant storefronts.
Commercial vacancies in Montreal’s downtown core rose to 34 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 from 28 per cent three months earlier, according to a report published in May. Twenty-four per cent of Ste-Catherine St. W. storefronts stood empty.
Most of the 22 buildings that are taking part in Créer des ponts are located downtown. They include landmarks such as Place Ville Marie, Complexe Desjardins and Place des Arts. Artists will also ply their trade at the Eaton Centre, the Palais des congrès, the Rockland Centre and the Nordelec building in Pointe-St-Charles, among others.
Each location will feature two resident artists, whose works will be displayed and available for sale. Visitors will have access to the workshops at the back where creation occurs.
Créer des ponts has a $1.1-million budget — the majority of which comes from the city of Montreal — to clean, paint and transform the properties, said Loury.
Key business partners include landlords such as Allied Properties, Cominar and Ivanhoé Cambridge, which are donating space. In return, they get a chance to display their locations in optimal conditions, argues Loury.
“It sends a strong signal to the neighbourhood,” he said. “Instead of an abandoned storefront, you have a space that’s been transformed into a sort of jewelry box. The place is clean and the artwork is interesting. A prospective tenant will immediately see the potential.”
Allied, which owns properties such as Old Montreal’s World Trade Centre, is one of the event’s biggest backers. The Toronto-based landlord has put some 19,000 square feet of space at the disposal of artists because the event fits the company’s values, according to André Sirois, Allied’s director of construction for Eastern Canada.
Under a program called Make Room for the Arts, Allied already rents space to artists at below-market rates, which it says contributes to boosting occupancy levels.
“Finding space for artists is in our DNA,” Sirois said in a phone interview. “Giving these spaces back to the community is the highest and best possible use. If an initiative like this can bring back people downtown and help to revitalize the area, even better.”
Adds Geneviève Touchette, general manager of Le Central food court, which is making some of its meeting rooms available: “We’re hoping this initiative restores some value to the real estate. It should also improve the consumer experience.”
As for the artists, who often struggle to find affordable workshop space, they now get the chance to create in an ideal setting. Loury says his organization will also facilitate contacts with museum curators and gallery owners.
Taking part in the event “is an absolute dream,” said textile artist Tina Struthers, a transplanted South African who will be displaying her works inside a Crescent St. location owned by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “To be in a commercial space like that, around the corner from the museum, is exceptional. As artists, the pandemic really hit us hard in terms of cancelled projects, so to have that opportunity to exhibit your work is really refreshing.”
And while Loury acknowledges his event won’t solve all of Montreal’s woes, “it’s one of the first steps in getting culture and real estate to work together,” he said. “If we can create durable links between the two, a major battle will have been won.”
For more information on Créer des ponts, including opening hours of individual sites, visit artsouterrain.com/en/creer-des-ponts-2021.
Poetry was good in lockdown, being better suited to the screen than most literature or art. That makes it timely that two ambitious London shows currently combine art with poetry, even if they were necessarily in planning well before we learned the language of covid. They have prominent local partners: Shoreditch Library with PEER, The Poetry School with Southwark Park Galleries. Both PEER’s Swirl of Words / Swirl of Worlds and Southwark Park Galleries’ A Fine Day for Seeing combine an exhibition, a programme of events and workshops, and a publication. And both strike me as excellent in all three respects – though as I curated the latter with the poet Tamar Yoseloff, half of that assessment may be biased!
At Southwark Park Galleries (to 29 Aug), the focus is on partnerships between poets and artists: ten poets respond to ten artists, allowing the visitor to read or listen to each through the catalogue, online or via QR code in the gallery. The relationships vary greatly, from mother and daughter to long term collaborators to newly-mets. Perhaps the most unusual dialogue is between Basil Beattie and Maitreyabandhu. The former taught the latter at Goldsmiths Art College in the 1980s, but they hadn’t met since – the pupil is now a Buddhist, ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1990 – and has swapped painting for poetry, publishing three collections with Bloodaxe Books. He chose the huge and hugely impressive ‘Cause & Effect’ from 1980, and wrote about the time when he was an art student before he stepped across…
the threshold into the present tense: Thatcher
gives way to Grindr, Brexit and XR
as Basil, who has hardly changed, makes tea.
We prop his pictures up against the wall
and talk about the dead – Hoyland gone
and Albert Irvin “a new joke everyday”
dying at the average age, in the average way,
as if that made a difference. The paintings stand
in working studio light and measured calm
as tribute to the eye and heart and hand,
mute surfaces of know-how, marking time.
PEER’s show (to 14 Aug) considers the relationship between language and cultural identity, notably represented by publication of a free book containing 94 poems in each of 94 languages identified as being spoken in Hackney, all with English translations. The poet Stephen Watts selected these, and while you might suspect the quality of the work would be subsidiary to its concept, it turns out to be a consistently strong collection. Watts will reads his own poems at the closing event. Meanwhile the extensive exhibition brings together classic fusions of art and language (by, for example, Kurt Schwitters, Susan Hiller and John Smith) with less-known but equally fascinating works. I was taken with half a dozen of Pete Smith’s ‘National Geographic Yellow Collages’ from a series ongoing since 2009. They consist of words and phrases removed from National Geographic magazine and pasted onto a magazine-sized background of horizontal yellow or gold strips themselves cut from the publication’s iconic front-cover border. That makes them visually striking, but they also operate wonderfully as semi-found poems of surreal conjunction.
Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head
from the Town of Midland
The corner of King Street and Bayshore Drive in Midland will soon be the home to a new public art installation.
“Sown,” an artwork conceived by local artists Holly Archer and Camille Myles, will be placed in its new home in downtown Midland this summer. The piece is being fabricated by Lafontaine Iron Werks with Toque Innovations of Midland as the technical designer. The inspiration behind “Sown” is the rich industrial history of Midland, with elements of the design representing the five fingers that built this community (logging, shipping, the railway, agriculture, and manufacturing) as well as the five bays from the foundational Indigenous legend of Kitchikewana.
“Developing vibrant public spaces and promoting a beautiful Midland is one of Council’s current strategic priorities,” said Mayor Stewart Strathearn. “This installation will complete the work on King Street, and we thank the Rural Economic Development program for their grant to assist with this project’s streetscaping, including the commissioning of this new work of art. I also want to thank the local artist and fabricators for crafting this piece to pay homage to the unnamed, unsung community members who have been instrumental in building Midland to where it is today.”
The artist team responded to a call for proposals that the Town issued in early 2021. “Sown” was selected based on the Town of Midland’s Public Art Policy, criteria outlined in the request for proposals, and the installation site.
“The Town of Midland recognizes that art and culture have been and will always be integral parts of our community,” said David Denault, Midland’s Chief Administrative Officer. “We are very proud of our town and our beautiful new main street and are excited to showcase all that we have to offer to both residents and visitors.”
The artwork is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, through the Rural Economic Development Program, and the public can learn more about this artwork as it’s being created. Visit EngagingMidland.ca/Sown-Public-Art-Installation for artistic descriptions of the artwork, concept boards, and details on the elements of design.
SHERBROOKE – A veritable who’s who of Indigenous and political leaders from across Nova Scotia gathered to mark the opening of the fifth annual Indigenous art exhibit at Historic Sherbrooke Village on July 25.
But while new acts of creation may have brought them here to celebrate under sunny skies, something just as durable kept them standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, before a capacity crowd of residents and artists: history and sense of healing was in the air.
“The last three months have been a very difficult time for Indigenous people in Canada,” Canadian Senator Daniel Christmas, a senior advisor to Membertou Mi’kmaw Nation, told the audience.
“Our global image as a defender or protector of basic human rights in the world has been seriously tarnished. But our own perception of ourselves has changed as well, and many Canadians have expressed their shame and their embarrassment,” he said. “The arts are so valuable when it comes to tragedy, to the need for healing and for reconciliation.”
Those gathered were surrounded by original works by Indigenous artists who have been contributing since the first event launched at the living museum’s Indigenous Art Centre under the auspices of the Sherbrooke Restoration Commission in 2017.
Acknowledging Christmas as a “tough act to follow,” Central Nova Member of Parliament Sean Fraser took to the rostrum and spoke about his experience growing up minutes away from Pictou Landing First Nation.
“It’s incredible to me that we have had this history before our eyes and yet we have not been able to see it,” he said, adding: “We see it now. People are looking for ways to help contribute to reconciliation. I have great hope, because I sense that the public has reached a place that, even if politicians wanted to forestall reconciliation, I do not think they can anymore.”
Throughout the gathering – which included MLA Lloyd Hines (Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie), Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston (Pictou East), Councillor and former Chief of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation Kerry Prosper – heads nodded in agreement.
“It’s great to see this facility [Indigenous Arts Centre] here because the road to reconciliation has got to include the culture,” Hines said in an interview following the event. “And the culture was probably the piece that was most ignored.”
Indeed, said exhibit organizer Marlis Lade, “Here, the artist can spend time and be proud and we are blessed to work together with them and celebrate. The recent sad news has touched all of us to the core of our being. But, in this beautiful centre will do everything we can to learn more. We directly benefit from that relationship.”
Added Sherbrooke Restoration Commissioner Marg Hartwell: “We wish to thank the artists from across the country that have contributed to this collection. Your work is moving and speaks of cultures. We received comments from visitors expressing appreciation for your work. You clearly make an impression, especially in these times. We wish more you could be with us here today to hear the appreciation yourselves. Our visitors are most reflective after seeing your work.”
Last to address the audience was Prosper. Gesturing to the variety of artworks on display, he said: “When I look at our Indigenous connection, we’ve been here for thousands of years. And through that time, we become a part of everything. Each and every one of you serve Indigenous countries. And you all have the same connection. We just happen to be a part of this land here.”
The Indigenous Art Centre in Sherbrooke is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Some items on display are for sale.
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