Former civic museum taking shape as new centre for visual arts

2012-11-30 | 08:15:27

GUELPH — This community is about to get a new boarding house, but it isn’t what you’d expect.

Mrs. Black’s Boarding House for the Arts is a new moniker for the former Guelph Civic Museum building on Dublin Street South, which business partners Kirk Roberts and Peregrine Wood are busy turning into a new centre for the visual arts.

They envision a bustling and productive facility comprising artist studios, special events and shows, a local mecca for the arts.

“We’re trying to create a community,” Roberts said Tuesday.

Hence the name, Wood added, noting Mrs. Black operated her own form of community there when it was a 1920s boarding house for students attending the Ontario Agricultural College, the precursor of the University of Guelph.

Nov. 30 is the date the two principal entrepreneurs at Tyrcathlen Partners Ltd. get possession after closing a deal with the city to purchase the site, though they’ve been busy with renovations that include opening the interior space for redevelopment and unveiling the many windows that were boarded up when it was a museum.

The municipality no longer needs the space since relocating the museum to a nearby former convent.

“The city has been kind to allow us access to the building,” Wood said Tuesday while providing a tour of the facility. It’s been shown to potential tenants and an architect has studied it “to visualize the building . . . to find the best use of it.”

Comprising three storeys and a usable basement labyrinth, the building adjacent Waterloo Avenue boasts 9,000 square feet.

“It’s a big building, but there’s lots of common space,” she said, referring to open corridors and landings suitable for moving large art pieces. There’s also a sizable elevator.

As they envision the space, the third floor comprises six studios for mid-career artists. The second has classroom space for educational programs in the arts and up to seven shared studio spaces for emerging artists assisted through a mentor-in-residence program.

“It’s almost like an emerging artists’ incubator,” Roberts said.

The first floor will serve as a gallery, special events area and perhaps workshop space, he said. That could include guest curator shows and resident artist displays for the public to peruse.

The basement includes a shared workshop area and rental space, including a sound-insulated area where performances could be held on occasion. That’s still up in the air. “I think this is where we can be creative,” Wood quipped.

“We’ve had a lot of interest expressed in print making,” Roberts said.

There’s also building space for non-profit organizations and storage.

Wood said the building has amenities that lend themselves to the visual arts in particular, such as natural lighting through large windows, high ceilings, versatile track lighting and tough concrete and hardwood floors.

The first tenants are expected “as early as Saturday,” Roberts said. More arrive in December and January. By February it should be a bustling centre of activity.