Studio Spaces Ottawa helping to fill a growing need for artists

Anna Frlan is a local artist and a member of Studio Space’s founding steering committee. She stands in a hallway in the new venture. Photo: Peter Simpson

The newest studios in Ottawa are a place where fun’s loss is art’s gain.

Studio Spaces Ottawa is already almost full of artists, who are creating new things in an old, nondescript building on Kaladar Avenue, just off Heron Road near Bank Street. It’s welcome news in a city that struggles to provide — and keep — adequate and accessible places for artists to work.

The building was once a Sears warehouse, but more recently it was the Midway Family Fun Park — the “Park” part being a curious label for an indoor space, especially a low-ceilinged one. The ground-floor area is now an assemblage of bumper cars, mini golf and arcade games, all of them unplugged, quiet and rather sad. Upstairs, things are bustling.

“We’ve actually rented all of the spaces. It’s good news for us,” says Anna Frlan, a local artist and a member of Studio Space’s founding steering committee. It also demonstrates the need for suitable spaces for artists. “I think it’s important because studio spaces in Ottawa, I think they’re getting scarcer,” Frlan says.

The city will lose dozens of studios on Gladstone Avenue, where the development of a new light rail-side condo tower will eliminate all or some of the well-used spaces in the Enriched Bread Artists’ building, and other studios and arts spaces in adjacent buildings. There are other small pockets of art-making space around town, though some of those too are tentative in the face of development.

Compared to other cities such as Montreal or Toronto or Hamilton, Frlan says, “Ottawa was never a city that had a lot of industrial, so there aren’t a lot of warehouse spaces. . . I think we’re very fortunate to have this space.”

The idea for Studio Space Ottawa began in April, so it went from concept to completion in barely four months — an impressive turnaround for a group of people who are not contractors. In addition to Frlan the steering committee included Kathy Bergquist, Ada Brzeski, Susan Roston, Carl Stewart and Christos Pantieras, all of them well-established in the city’s arts community.

Driven by a succinct vision statement — “Providing working spaces for working artists is our fundamental belief” — their first step was to apply for, and get, official status as a non-profit business. That status, Frlan says, allows the committee to keep rents low, and be eligible for public funding.

To date there’s been no public funding involved, which makes the speed of the project’s realization even more impressive. (Their first applications for public grants have been filed with the City of Ottawa.) During a tour in mid-September there was still some reno work under way, but overall the spaces in phase one of the project were ready for artistic occupation.

The spaces are, typically for artists’ studios, plain and practical. They’re built to be adaptable and to take the spills and other stains of art-making.

The spaces range in size from barely more than 100 square feet to 500 square feet. Some have windows — for those who need some natural light — but most do not. Some overlook a large, ground-floor space that’s now being used for storage by a nearby furniture shop and is crammed full of Danish-style chairs, tables and cabinets.

The studios are a variety of shapes and some have wacky traces of the fun “park” years, such as loudly chequered blue-and-red floors, or a small and seemingly inexplicable stage in what was, I’m told, “the Princess Room.”

All 19 spaces in phase one are leased, and most are already full of artists making art. Four more artists move in this week, and the last one arrives Nov. 1.

Phase two is on the ground floor in the back of the building, and its two studios should be ready for artists this week. These studios are necessarily on the ground floor and a bit removed from the other spaces; One will be filled by an artist who works in metal and does a lot of welding, and the other, larger space will be home to four artists who work in ceramics and share a very hot kiln oven.

Frlan is effusive in her praise for the building’s property managers, Stonewater Properties.

“They’ve been wonderful to work with,” she says. “Without their willingness to do renovations and put money into the building, we wouldn’t have the studio spaces we have now.” 

Studio Space Ottawa is at 2477 Kaladar Ave., next to Overflow Brewing.

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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.