PETER HUM Updated: November 6, 2019
For much of the last five years, Kristina Corre has created her hand-cut collages while working on the living room floor of the one-bedroom condo she shares with her partner and their two cats.
Initially, that was the all the studio Corre needed. Her materials were close at hand in a room with big sunny windows, and well-lit photos of her work became winners on social media.
But more recently, Corre reached the limit of her living room, which became “much too small for the large-scale work I want to do,” she says.
Fortunately, she is among a group of 22 Ottawa-area artists who have found proper working space — which is increasingly at a premium in the city for a variety of reasons — at Studio Space Ottawa, a 50,000-square-foot building on Kaladar Avenue that had its grand opening in late October.
The building is overseen by a non-profit arts group that holds the lease and divides the area into separate studios. That the project was able to reach capacity and rent for all of its initial studio spaces does not surprise Corre.
“The conversation about the lack of workspace for artists in this city is one that’s been going on for decades,” says Corre, who is also one of two staff members at the artist-run centre Gallery 101.
In 2018, she received a grant from the City of Ottawa’s Creation and Production Fund for Professional Artists for a project of mural-scale collages and installations. “The work for this project will be based on interviews and portraits I intend to do with members of the Filipinx diaspora in Ottawa,” Corre says. “Finding a private studio space where I could close the door to have conversations and make portraits was the main non-negotiable in my search for a space, and I was finally able to find that at Studio Space.”
She adds: “Having dedicated table space to work on now will be so much better for my back.”
Corre’s fellow tenants tell similar stories of need and relief when it comes to finding the right space to pursue their art.
Oil painter Jadzia Romaniec and photo-based Vivian Törs both recently graduated from home studios to Studio Space Ottawa.
Romaniec says she found working at home “very isolating” and values the sense of community that has come with her new digs.
“For me, and many people I have spoken with, it is very important to be in a creative milieu. In a dedicated creative space, one can focus on work, and ideas about technical and creative matters can be discussed with others.”
Törs agrees. “It’s motivating to know that all the other artists renting here are also on the cusps of their own new beginnings,” she says.
Romaniec adds that the inevitable mess that comes with painting is better dealt with at Studio Space.
“Despite my best efforts, I inevitably tracked paint to my bathroom and kitchen,” she says. “I had come to a point where I felt that I was spending more time wiping paint off furniture and floors than applying it to canvas.
“It is wonderful to have a place to work where there is a ‘slop sink’ in which to wash brushes without worry about escaping paint, where the floor is intended to get dirty and walls don’t mind a smear or two of paint,” Romaniec says.
Before coming to Studio Space Ottawa, Lis Smidt, who makes quilts meant to displayed on walls, spent the last three years looking for affordable studio space in Ottawa.
For a time, Smidt rented at the Enriched Bread Artists studio collective. However, Trinity Development Group has a proposal to build three residential towers plus office and retail space where that Gladstone Avenue hub for artists stands.
Smidt also had a studio for several years at Platform Gallery and Studio. However, that space was eventually expropriated by the city, Smidt says, and after moving to its new location on Gladstone Avenue, Platform, too, has the shadow of Trinity’s proposed development hanging over it.
“My experience has made me realize that I depend on a studio for moving forward with my work,” Smidt says. “Hearing about Studio Space Ottawa was therefore exciting and answered my prayers.”
Visual artist Vicky Palmer related a similar story. For the past few years, she shared space in a studio on Muriel Street near Bronson Avenue. “Then the owners wanted to convert to condos,” she says. She was working in her very small apartment until Studio Space Ottawa became an option.
Pansee Atta, a multimedia artist who rents at Studio Space Ottawa, says artists across Canada face a challenge finding a studio in which to work. “But in Ottawa, this problem feels especially dire,” she says.
“Most studios for rent in central Ottawa are not affordable, and there are not nearly enough,” Smidt says. “The places that exist do not often have vacancies, and this will be even worse, as new condo developments absorb the existing artist hub around Gladstone and Loretta (avenues), where the largest concentration of affordable studios are today.”
“On the other hand, Ottawa locals care a lot about public art, museums, galleries and culture,” Atta says. “We just need to make art-making spaces more visible. Because without this space, the stuff that makes this city colourful and exciting for so many can’t get made.”