Arts Incubator Gives Artists a Boost

Studio space and mentorships available to students and grads

Adrienne Spier

Adrienne Spier stands outside the Boarding House.

Artist Adrienne Spier needed a studio space where she could be noisy and messy. She found it in a new arts incubator that connects U of G with downtown partners.

Along with other emerging artists chosen for an inaugural incubator program at Guelph’s Boarding House, Spier will gain free access this year to round-the-clock studio space, mentors, equipment, colleagues and other resources.

Under the program begun last fall, seven artists – mostly U of G grads – have established studios in a shared upper-floor space at 6 Dublin St. S.

The program gives participants a place to work and a chance to learn more about studio practice, says co-founder Kirk Roberts. “It’s modelled on the idea of a tech incubator, with administration, services and support to help artists advance their careers.”

Sponsors include U of G’s School of Fine Art and Music (SOFAM) and Musagetes, an organization using art and culture to foster community.

Says Prof. John Kissick, SOFAM director: “We are looking for opportunities to bridge the experience of students moving into the art profession.

“Artists tend to develop and mature better around other artists, so creating a community of artists where they can support one another and provide feedback is hugely important. It’s also a complicated community that often requires mentorships in how to guide their way into the profession.”

The program is also supported by Roberts and co-founder Peregrine Wood; they co-own Tyrcathlen Partners, a heritage property development and management company in Guelph. Both are self-described art lovers keen to support local practitioners.

Artists were selected after an open call for participants this past summer.

They work with varied media, including woodworking, metal sculpting, paint and digital media. “We wanted a mix of arts in range of practice, physical use of space and mixed media,” says Roberts. “There’s a phenomenal range.”

Rachel Vanderzwet, BFA ’11, had painted in her own space downtown since graduation. Now she visits the Boarding House three or four times a week for several hours at a time.

“It’s a really great opportunity to be in a shared studio again. There are not that many around town. It’s nice to be a community of artists and also have mentorship.”

During a recent information session, one mentor discussed grad schools. “I’m looking into them now,” says Vanderzwet.

She hopes to learn more about anything from tax planning to career advice. She has shown her work in Renann Isaacs Gallery downtown and at shows in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver.

She likens the incubator to the specialized studio program in U of G’s Alexander Hall where she spent the final year of her undergrad. More than that, she says, the Boarding House program connects its artists with the wider community in Guelph and beyond the city. “It’s a fantastic stepping stone.”

Spier says other artists and mentors provide ideas about where and how to show her work and what resources to look into. “It’s exciting to be part of something that’s new.”

A 1998 BFA grad of Guelph, she had lived and worked in Montreal and Toronto. Back in Guelph with her family this year, she began hunting for space and forging connections with other artists and organizations.

“I didn’t know any artists here, so I just pounded the pavement. I quickly got a lot of information about the studio situation,” she says. “Space is hard to find, especially rough space where I can make noise and be messy.”

Spier does sculpture and installation art using discarded and found materials. Among other places, she has shown her work in Toronto, Montreal, the Netherlands and Germany.

For several current projects, she’s using everything from discarded hardwood flooring and large-scale photos to waste particle board and broken beer bottles. A bonus is the basement workshop equipped with such tools as a table saw, drill press and sander.

Other incubator artists are Colin Carney, Annie Dunning, Whitney Arnott, Monika Hauck and Gabriel Parniak. Most are U of G grads. Vanderzwet, Arnott and Hauck completed their BFAs at Guelph within the past two years.

A mentoring committee offers advice on topics including art writing and criticism, curatorial practice, media arts, research, fundraising, grant writing, gallery management and studio practice.

Committee members include Ron Shuebrook, former chair and founding co-ordinator of the Guelph MFA program; Judy Nasby, recently retired director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC); Prof. Martin Pearce, SOFAM; and artist and U of G grad Don Russell.

Other mentors are Roberts; Alissa Firth-Eagland, Musagetes program manager; local gallery owner Renann Isaacs; and Scott McGovern, program director of Ed Video.

Each artist is expected to contribute one work this year for fundraising purposes.

Besides the incubator and artist studios, the building is home to the Boarding House Gallery – also co-sponsored by SOFAM and MSAC – as well as Musagetes and Capacity 3 Gallery.

Says Wood: “Seeing culture start in the building is exciting. There’s a very eclectic mix of people here.”

An incubator open house will take place Feb. 13 from 6 to 9 p.m.