Awaiting their fate: Enriched Bread Artists ponder future as development planned for their site

The old Standard Bread building on Gladstone Avenue now houses the Enriched Bread Artists studios. The site is about to be developed and the artists are wondering where they will go.

The city’s biggest arts hub will be broken up, that much seems certain. Less certain is how many of the artists there will be forced to relocate, and to where, and when.

The arts hub is the property at the northeast corner of Gladstone and Loretta avenues, just up the hill from Preston Street in a neighbourhood that’s seeing rapid development.

The core of the hub is the old Standard Bread building, which for almost 30 years has been home to the Enriched Bread Artists collective. There are currently 22 artists working in the warren that is EBA.

The 18 artists of Loft Studios work upstairs, while the bottom floor houses the Gladstone Clayworks Co-op. All told, EBA president Dan Sharp says,  there are 100 artists working throughout the several nondescript buildings on the property, including other collectives or individuals, glass blowers, musicians and more. Without question, it is Ottawa’s largest and most vibrant hub of independent artists.

All are now waiting to see their collective fate under a pair of good-news-bad-news realities.

The first good news is that Ottawa’s new light rail system goes right past the property, and a new station to be built outside the studio door would make the place more accessible for artists and anyone who wants to visit and see art. The bad news is that those tracks and station also make the adjacent property more valuable and thus attractive for development.

Which is precisely what is now happening. Trinity Development is proposing a massive residential and commercial project on the site, which bodes ill for all those artists who surely couldn’t afford the rent in shiny, new buildings — presuming there’s room for artists there at all. Trinity is publicly promising to make room for artists, though details remain scant.

Trinity is controlled by John Ruddy, a major supporter of the arts in the capital. He has given a lot of money to places such as the Ottawa Art Gallery, so it follows that he understands the importance of an independent centre of the arts. As Sharp says, “He wouldn’t be insensitive to the delicacy of blowing up an arts hub.”

For now, Trinity says it intends to conserve the EBA building, and to have room for artists inside. From there it gets perhaps necessarily vague about  precise details and timeline.

“It’s different and it’s unique and we’re still trying to wrap our heads around the whole thing,” says Mathew Laing, Trinity’s senior vice president of development and planning, who has toured the building and who participated in a Feb. 4 public meeting to discuss the development proposal. “There’s definitely an opportunity and it’s something that we need to figure out as we move through the process.”

That process includes site plans, zoning applications and other regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles that could add up to a few years, and which offer an clinical test to determine whether watching paint dry really is more boring. As for the building, Laing says, “We don’t have a defined timeline right now. . . As of right now, it’s kind of status quo.”

Sharp says the artists are “very interested in working with Trinity, if at all possible.” Having artist studios in the new buildings would be “a selling point; it’s good public relations. It might even be a marketing point — they’re going to have  a commercial-residential development that has artists on site.”

Other developments have incorporated existing architecture or settings. Trinity’s own Lansdowne development included several historic buildings. The St. Germain Hotel and Arthaus condos are part of and above the Ottawa Art Gallery. The Morguard building on Elgin Street was built around and over the charmingly stodgy, 19th-century building that now houses Beckta, the fine dining restaurant.

To use gourmet language, these developments all resulted from a cassoulet of business and politics. While the city can’t coerce Trinity into saving arts space, it can encourage it.

“We couldn’t refuse the (rezoning) application on the basis that it doesn’t preserve or create an artist space,” says Councillor Jeff Lieper, whose Kitchissippi ward meets the Somerset ward of Councillor Catherine McKenny near EBA. “However, it’s a political decision to refuse or allow the application … and applicants generally seek to build at least some goodwill to mitigate the backlash that a large project like this will often engender.”

Lieper says EBA’s loss “would be keenly felt in Hintonburg, which prides itself on its arts-friendliness. Trinity has to date expressed that they understand the community’s desire to maintain that arts hub, and that they’ll be open-minded to that discussion.”

Meanwhile, Sharp says EBA is looking for other places.

“Other buildings, maybe empty schools, maybe partnering with other developers. Maybe there are other locations where it would be appropriate for artists to move in — ideally an old industrial building, a factory that is no longer used. Ottawa’s rather short on old industrial buildings, so we don’t have a lot of hope of finding something like EBA again.”

He suggests the city could provide a building or space for the artists. “We’re not asking to be given anything, but to be recognized as a valuable asset to the city, and in that value you have opportunities for artists to live and to work and contribute to the community.”

And why not designate a city-owned building for affordable use by a few dozen artists? Centres of creativity are the sort of thing that gives a city personality and character, and they can raise the level of art being produced in a city. All art comes from collaboration, in the sense that all artists are influenced by the work of others, so bringing artists together in one space further stokes collaboration and inspiration.

It’d be a shame to lose the creative buzz of the hub that Gladstone-Loretta grew to be, and it need not be so. If most of the artists can find another central, affordable home, they could continue to work together and maintain the buzz, and perhaps have a formal link with whichever artists are eventually accommodated by Trinity.

Perhaps the offsite artists could use an exhibition space in the restored EBA building, where, thanks to the new rail line and station, their art could more easily be seen by more eyes than ever before. It’s not too late to paint a silver lining on that cloud.

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Peter Simpson, a native of Prince Edward Island, was arts editor and arts editor at large for the Ottawa Citizen for 15 years, with a focus on the visual arts. He lives in downtown Ottawa with one wife, two cats and more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures.