Front row, from left: Peregrine Wood, owner, Boarding House for the Arts; Don Bruce, dean, College of Arts; Prof. Susan Dobson, SOFAM; Vicki Isotamm, event co-ordinator, College of Arts; Aidan Ware, co-ordinator of education and development, MSAC; and Dawn Owen, curator of contemporary art, MSAC. Back row, from left: Prof. Christian Giroux, SOFAM; Prof. Martin Pearce, SOFAM; Prof. John Kissick, director, SOFAM; Kirk Roberts, owner, Boarding House for the Arts; and Verne Harrison, gallery co-ordinator, MSAC.

Mrs. Black’s Boarding House was once home to temporary residents; it’s now the permanent home of the arts in downtown Guelph. In its more than 160-year history, the building has gone through many incarnations, including the Guelph Civic Museum, which was relocated to Norfolk Street last year.

Built in 1847, the historic building now has a new identity as the Boarding House for the Arts. The first tenant is the Boarding House Gallery, which officially opened Feb. 28 with an art show by faculty in the School of Fine Art and Music (SOFAM). The exhibit, called “1,” continues until March 24 and features 13 contemporary works of art, including photography, paintings, a metal sculpture and a neon light shaped like a cloud.

The gallery, located at 6 Dublin St. S., will showcase works by faculty artists as well as U of G undergraduate and graduate students.

“When I saw the space I thought, ‘I’ve got an idea,’” says Prof. John Kissick, SOFAM director. He had been invited to visit the building by Kirk Roberts and Peregrine Wood, owners of Tyrcathlen Partners, which purchased the building from the City of Guelph last fall. Roberts and Wood envisioned the building as an artistic and cultural hub in downtown Guelph.

With its hardwood floors and track lighting, the former museum didn’t need extensive renovations for its new life as an art gallery and event space. The second floor will be used for teaching and art classes; studio space will be located on the third floor.

SOFAM already operates Toronto’s G Gallery on 134 Ossington St., which exhibits artwork by U of G grads, but Kissick wanted a similar space in downtown Guelph for students.

“What we didn’t have was a space in between, where we could spotlight graduate student work and our upper-level undergraduates,” he says. “It’s a really nice halfway experience before entering the Toronto market.”

A gallery in downtown Guelph is more accessible to the public, he adds, and creates a U of G presence in the city’s core.

The gallery will feature SOFAM exhibits for nine months each year. For the other three months, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC) will exhibit its permanent collection, most of which is in storage.

“We strive to connect with the downtown community, and this is a great way to do that,” says Dawn Owen, MSAC curator of contemporary art. “For many of the students, it’s their first professional foray into the arts. It’s an opportunity for them to show professionally in a beautiful space and work with fully established professional artists.”

The gallery will feature a new exhibition every month. Admission is free.
Other building tenants include Musagetes, an international organization that promotes the arts as a way to connect people and build communities. Musagetes and SOFAM plan to bring international artists to Guelph under a visiting artist program.