Spotlight on The Leaside Group

Chris Picco and Joanna Barker perform at Raw Refrains #15 in June, 2014. Andrea Edwards photography

With an eye and appreciation for contemporary design and décor mingled with old-world charm, the people behind The Leaside Group (Leaside Manor, Compton House, Monastery Spa & Suites, Arnold’s Cove Inn, and Leaside Apartments) know that running a successful enterprise is all about balance. And incorporating the arts into their business structure is a crucial part of that balancing act.

When husband-and-wife team Dion and Dora Finlay purchased Leaside six years ago, they knew they had something special.

“We had been guests of Leaside and already loved the property. That first year we realized Leaside was loved by anyone staying there in the rooms, but we also had a great following of people using the boardroom for both personal and business purposes. It was back then we wanted to infuse Leaside with art…giving people another way to enjoy the heritage property,” Dion says.

The Leaside Group’s Dion Finlay (left) and Patrick Molloy, founder of Raw Refrains. Andrea Edwards photography

The Leaside Group has worked with artists such as Andrew James O’Brien (for a benefit for Team Broken Earth), Dale Jarvis and Danielle Irvine, just to name a few. They are also considering a potential artists-in-residence program.

“We are open to this. Our challenge is connecting with artists and getting the word out so they can approach us,” Dion says.

“There are other things in the works and we are open to doing so much more.”

The Leaside Group’s support of local artists extends beyond St. John’s. At the Arnold’s Cove Inn, for example, they have hosted small events with the community and are hoping to do more.

“We recently completed renovations on a separate space in the inn where we hope to do more local arts events…we want it to be an extension of what we are doing in the city,” Dion says.

“We are working on a few other things as well. We need to update the art in the spa suites and are looking at sourcing that locally… As well, we are getting some bed runners made from a local quilting group on the Burin Peninsula. We want to bring more local content into the spa.”

Perhaps one of The Leaside Group’s most successful collaborations has been with Raw Refrains – an intimate, revolving arts showcase, founded in 2007 by singer-songwriter Patrick Molloy, that encompasses music, visual art, dance, film and more under one roof.

Leaside’s Abbey Cafe with Alison Rideout’s artwork displayed (2016). Andrea Edwards photography

Through Patrick’s outreach efforts in 2016, Leaside played host to The Once and Artistic Fraud (who developed one of their new plays at Compton House); Berni Stapleton’s show “Woman, Naked”; DanceNL’s AGM; MusicNL for a weekend of songwriting; Riddle Fence’s awards show; plus 10 shows featuring approximately 50 local artists from all disciplines.

Patrick says Leaside’s inspiring and energy-infused spaces are a boon to the audience, as well as the artists and the works they create.

“The majority of the rooms are small enough that there is no requirement for a PA system. To be truly unplugged brings a completely different level of intimacy. It feels like a house concert, but instead it’s in a historic setting. Because of this you are creating moments and long-lasting memories for the audience and artist,” he says.

Leaside’s support, Patrick adds, has also offered the potential to move visual art and put money directly into the artists’ pockets, helping to fund their passion and careers, while exposing their work to a wider audience. Raw Refrains has also given artists the chance to work with others from different disciplines.

Visual artist Ally Baird at Raw Refrains at Leaside, 2014. Andrea Edwards photography

“A singer-songwriter may find sparks from the visual artist’s art exhibit, while a poet may create their next masterpiece from a song shared, while the dancer may inspire a filmmaker in their next project. There is a lot of cross-contamination of lovely artistic inspiration,” he says.

Dion says having the artists on hand has been a positive experience for the business as well, in more ways than one.

“The friendships and relationships to start,” he says “plus any business knows word of mouth can make or break you, and having the arts community supporting us is great. It has been great satisfaction to see someone post online that they are looking for a venue for an event, only to see one of the artists post a positive comment about our venues. That, plus we have gained new clients from people that came to see shows.”

As Leaside explores further opportunities to work with artists, Dion says what they have witnessed happening inside their spaces so far “is truly amazing.”

“The talent is second to none. I have to say it has been a total pleasure of mine to be in the audience.”