Whether it’s a painter in search of the perfect light or a dancer who needs space to spread their wings and fly, having a place in which to perform, practice and hone their craft is integral to the success of any artist.
Since early June, the “Pop Up Arts Space” in the Neal Building at 50 Harbour Drive in downtown St. John’s (a partnership between Business & Arts NL and Common Ground Coworking) has provided space for 450 hours of rehearsals, meetings, screenings and more.
The seed for the idea was planted a couple of years ago when Dave Lane, St. John’s City Councillor and Project Lead at the Neal Building, wrote an article for local publication The Overcast that explored transforming older/vacant buildings into arts/innovation spaces.
“The leasing agent for Slate Asset Management, the company that owns the Neal Building, reached out to me, intrigued by the possibility. I brought an architect named Grant Genova of Fresh Fruit & Architecture to the table and asked Common Ground Coworking if they would help sponsor a feasibility study into the idea,” Lane explains.
“Recognizing the value of a vibrant arts community to our city’s attractiveness and economic sustainability, they agreed and together we have been hosting startups, small businesses, and of course artists at the Neal Building as part of the information gathering component of the feasibility study.”
Once Business and Arts NL came forward, the Pop Up Arts Space project was born, which has since hosted a variety of artists and arts groups working in various disciplines. The spaces available are varied in terms of size and layout, Lane says, “which means that different groups have options to best suit their needs.”
“We’ve had the pleasure of hosting the Nickel Independent Film Festival, who used the building as office space to operate the festival; the Isle aux Morts Theatre Festival as a studio space to build impressively large puppets; Perchance Theatre as rehearsal space for their three summer shows; as well as Mimi Stockland and Wanda Nolan who used the space as a place to collaboratively write scripts for a television series,” Lane says.
“Many, many other artists have passed through our building, including clowns led by Sara Tilley; actors from Shakespeare by the Sea; Bernie Stapleton who directed Brazil Square; and so many others.”
The space is being made available for free for Pop Up Arts Space users, and a couple of groups have expressed interest in renting space once the program wraps up, Lane says.
“This is a very good sign for the sustainability of the larger ‘arts and innovation space’ initiative,” he adds.
Some interesting collaborations have also come about as a result of the project, like that between the arts groups and one of the building’s other tenants, the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC), which presents “an exciting opportunity to help connect new Canadians to our community,” Lane says.
In addition to supporting the Pop Up Arts Space at the Neal Building, Common Ground has also hosted artists/arts groups, like the Mummers Festival, at their primary space at 30 Harvey Road.
“Most recently, the artist Allan Turton visited, set up, and created his visual art at Harvey Road, ending the month with a gallery exhibit in partnership with two local artists, Mary Kate Noseworthy of Neon Tangles Art, and Mark Pottle of West Coast Woodworks. The exhibit took place in our main coworking space, which was opened to the public,” Lane adds.
With a mandate that embraces community and collaboration, Common Ground is helping creative sparks fly by supporting the arts community, which in turn benefits all.
“There is a strong belief that when you bring together people who are passionate about creating something or pursuing an objective, they will ‘collide’ and do incredible things together,” Lane says.
“I believe our members intuitively see the value in connecting with our arts community because ultimately we’re all creative, and we all love our city. If we can find some way to finally connect our most explicitly creative citizens – our artists – with our oft-touted ‘innovation agendas,’ then the City of St. John’s and Province of Newfoundland and Labrador will see success like we’ve never imagined.”
“It just feels great to be a part of something so important and full of potential.”