The SPAO Centre’s new ‘Haus’ is set to officially open for business

The SPAO centre will host a ribbon cutting on Nov 10.

The pace has been dizzying for Ottawa’s School of Photographic Arts over the past 12 months but the stars have aligned and SPAO is ready to officially open its doors on Nov. 10.

The school has actually been operating since September, says Jonathan Hobin, who has been the executive director of the school since coming on board more than a year ago.

The professional photographer and artist has been stretching his administrative chops since then, helping to stickhandle the move from SPAO’s first home on Dalhousie Street on the second floor of a low-rise.

The new centre is located just off Preston Street at Pamilla, just north of Carling on the edge of an emerging hot spot in Ottawa’s downtown. If you travel up from Dow’s Lake north to Scott Street, the changes to the cityscape are impressive and SPAO is one of those that shines a bright light. There are still some small hurdles to overcome and details to finalize but those don’t worry Hobin.

The design for the new building was done by a small team led by Hobin’s father Barry, a well-known local architect. 

The new space is a third larger allowing for more students, a gallery and a room that is emerging as a performance space with lots of potential for artists and musicians in the area. The Preston Street area has other arts operations nearby such as Gallery 101 and further north the Enriched Bread Artists co-op and The Gladstone theatre. There is also a large condo development nearby and phase two of LeBreton Flats is looming on the horizon.  

“We have found that we have really become an arts centre built by students that houses the only independent critical photo-specific gallery, that offers a college diploma program and a really cool events space,” he says about the new building. Hobin adds that people, from embassies to the United Nations, are contacting SPAO about using the new performance space. That will get a public test drive when the Peptides and Rebecca Noelle entertain dignitaries and the public at the open house on Nov. 10.

“As soon as you provide a more conducive space, people can see what’s being offered more clearly. What was there for 12 years was all word of mouth and kind of secret (on Dalhousie Street) is now has a space that does it justice.” SPAO is even now pronounced ‘SPOW’, giving the whole enterprise a catchy vibe.

Hobin says the centre is being welcomed by many parts of the local community including the councillors for the area and the business improvement area.

“We are in a neighbourhood that seems to be excited about what we are doing.”

SPAO is a private career college under the Ontario Ministry of Education. It receives no grants and makes do with revenue from tuition paid by full and part-time students that totals about $350,000 per year. SPAO offers a two-year diploma and a wide range part-time courses that help pay a lot of the bills.

The new building is offering the potential for new courses at SPAO including a possible video course. They have also expanded their artist residency to include international artists. The centre has two SPAO grads in residencies as well as an artist from Australia and another from Italy.

And it’s keeping Hobin’s attention for the foreseeable future.

“I really enjoyed managing the school and stretching. I’m doing something I haven’t done since I managed an art department at a film company. I’ll get back to my own (art) eventually but right now I find this is pretty satisfying.”

The SPAO Centre Grand Opening is Nov. 10 starting at 5 p.m. The centre is located at 77 Pamilla St., at Preston. To RSVP click on the ‘going’ button on the SPAO Facebook event page or by emailing subject line ‘Grand Opening RSVP’.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.