By Natalie Harmsen
In 1992, led by Laura Margita, a band of students from the University of Ottawa took hold of an empty bread factory building on Gladstone Avenue and turned it into the largest artists studio co-operative in the city of Ottawa.
Drawing on the history of the building for its name, the Enriched Bread Artists co-op is now celebrating 25 years of making art happen on the borders of Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood. The party is centred upon a free Open Studio celebration that starts on Thursday. The event which will continue through the month will showcase the work of the 22 artists in the co-operative.
Visitors to the studio will see finished artworks and some archival photographs and old advertisements of The Standard Bread Company, started in 1924 in the Gladstone location by Cecil Morrison. Over the years it changed hands and eventually was left empty.
Margita, who now is the director of Gallery 101 is very proud that EBA has been around for so long.
“The most significant thing the EBA has done, in my mind, is it was created by me to be a not-for-profit organization. That meant that it could live beyond my time,” she said. “For me personally, I proved my worth as a community builder.”
Celebrating 25 years as the largest studio co-op in Ottawa, and one of the first in the city, is a significant achievement, said Christos Pantieras, who is an artist-member of the co-op. He works with sculptures, installations, and mixed media.
“Although Ottawa is now chock-full of various artist co-ops, we’ve shown that organizations are able to maintain themselves without any major outside operational assistance,” he said.
“Secondly, over the years we’ve had several highly successful artists work within these walls as they were building their careers,” added Pantieras. “There are some significant Canadian artists who have been a part of this organization. I think of Eliza Griffiths, Alexandre Castonguay, John R. Barkley and Barbara Gamble to name a few. This is a time to celebrate accomplishments and milestones.”
Each floor of the building has its own story. At the start only the first floor had studios, said Pantieras. The next year, EBA expanded to the second floor. The third floor was occupied by a garment-making company for many years, but finally the clothing firm moved out and that floor became “The Loft” studios.
Today all three floors are divided into artist spaces. The building is also home to Clayworks, a ceramics co-operative, as well as Christopher Solar, a furniture designer and maker.
Jenny McMaster joined EBA in 2013. She says that the anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on the history of building and the artists who have left their marks (literally) on the building.
“When you are here, you see reminders of who used to be in the studio. In the bathroom, the place is papered with maps. There are paintings in the hallway, people painted on the cracks of the walls and made it into art,” she said.
“If you look at the ceiling, there are places where parts of the ceiling have come down and it’s this evolving piece of artwork. You have a studio space but you remember when it was somebody else’s studio space. There’s a lot of leftovers which give it the studio feeling of character.”
Painter Tami Galili Ellis has been at the EBA for four years. She said there aren’t many artist collectives in the city that have been around to celebrate 25 years.
“I think we have a very large art community in Ottawa and it’s really nice that there’s something so solid (that’s) been going on for so many years. When the EBA started it was kind of loose and open, and slowly became more of an institution over time,” she said.
“It’s a great location and it’s subsidized, so as an artist you’re getting a space that’s not top money to get a space there.”
The large number of artists in the EBA creates a valuable learning environment, McMaster says.
Artists interested in joining EBA go through a submission process in which they provide images of their work, an accompanying list, an artist’s statement, resume and letter of intention. The application is reviewed by the entire membership to review and voted upon. If the candidate is successful, they’re placed on an external waiting list.
It’s not all been easy. There are the usual conflicts that arise when a large number of strong personalities gather together. The building is also aging and in need of constant repair.
The studio has also struggled to define itself in an “ever-evolving city,” said Pantieras.
“Our mandate is to offer affordable studio space, but we’ve also hosted exhibitions and events over the years. So are we a studio space or an event space hybrid?
“As well, our biggest challenge lies in how the area is developing as a residential area. That raises the question: Is there room for EBA in this growing community,” he said. “Will there be a 50th anniversary? We’ll see.”
Cindy Stelmakowich, who specializes in sculpture, installation and digital photography, said the EBA “has provided supportive and affordable studio space for artists to make art for 25 years.
“When doing either larger scale work, or engaging with messy materials, a studio is critical to have,” she said. “Having a studio is also a psychological space — a room of one’s own —which allows you to dedicate time to getting creative and tapping into new ideas.”
Stelmakowich added that “the bakery heritage of the space is inspiring, and the group of artists that have gathered at EBA are supportive. As an organization it runs well because people have really cared about it over the past 25 years.”
“At the risk of sounding corny and saying it is a ‘special’ place, that is exactly what it is for many of the artists.”
When: The Enriched Enriched Bread Artists 25th Anniversary Open Studio is open Oct. 19 from 6 to 9 p.m.; Oct. 20 and 27, 6 to 9 p.m.; Oct. 21 and 28, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Oct. 22 and 29, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information: enrichedbreadartists.com
Where: 951 Gladstone Ave.
Participating Artists: Sarah Anderson, Marianne Burlew, Heidi Conrod, Tami Galili Ellis, Colette Gréco-Riddle, Marika Jemma, Sayward Johnson, Suleyman Karagoglu, Gayle Kells, Gillian King, Natasha Mazurka, Juliana McDonald, Jenny McMaster, Christos Pantieras, Bozica Radjenovic, Mana Rouholamini, Lis Smidt, Bill Staubi, Cindy Stelmackowich, Svetlana Swinimer, Tavi Weisz, Joyce Westrop, Yvonne Wiegers.
This story was produced in collaboration with the Carleton University journalism program and Centretown News.