Artist checking for a site visit

Studio Space Ottawa

Nancy Baele

Kathy Bergquist recalled that the birth of Studio Space Ottawa started innocently enough with a neighbourhood walk she took in March. She noticed a for rent sign on a red stucco and cinder building that had originally been used to manufacture textiles for Sears.   For years she had been looking for affordable studio space, something industrial because she is a metal sculptor who welds and uses plasma cutters, so she phoned to inquire about renting 200 square feet and was told 50,000 square feet were available.  Highly aware of the dearth of studio spaces in Ottawa, she immediately imagined a large group of artists working there -in every medium, at every age and stage of their development.

View of studioShe broached the idea to property manager, Donna Parent, who connected her with Ada Brzeski, a clay artist who also had inquired about studio space in the same building. Bergquist contacted Anna Frlan who organized a steering committee of six, including artists Susan Roston, Christos Pantieras and Carl Stewart. They created a buzz by reaching out to Ottawa artists working in clay, sound, photography, painting, digital media, print making, sculpture, installations. During the spring, Bergquist and Frlan took interested artists on tours, through sprawling spaces filled with bumper cars, slot machines, and limp rag dolls, left by the last tenant, a Fun Fair business.

Eventually, they decided to create a non-profit arts group in order to be the single lease holder for a big space that could be divided into individual studios, Anna Frlan coined the motto: “working spaces for working artists.”  Bergquist stressed that Frlan’s involvement was crucial to the success of the project. “Her depth of knowledge about arts organization administration meant she knew the practical steps needed to get it going. If it weren’t for her, we’d probably still be wading through bureaucratic paperwork.”  As well, Christos Pantieras launched a Studio Space Ottawa Capital Campaign, with photos and a fine essay. The goal is $15,000 for infrastructure and start up costs.  

SSO’s non-profit arts group is responsible for managing individual rentals, consulting artists about their requirements, drawing up studio plans and costing square footage to include not only work spaces but also contributions for a reserve fund and the cost of shared spaces: bathrooms, a communal water room with industrial sinks, wide hallways. The rent for studio space is $14 a square foot/ year or $1.67 square foot/ month plus HST. The studios range in size from 130 square feet to over 700 square feet. Some have windows, others have lights that simulate daylight. The goal is to provide artists with a stable, affordable, open, safe and healthy environment. It’s possible arts organizations, attracted by SSO’s presence, will rent some of the large open spaces ranging between 4500-6000 square feet.

Another studio viewThe steering committee’s enthusiasm and vision created an infectious studio lust fever, palpable among every strata of Ottawa’s artistic community. In mid August there was an opportunity for artists who had expressed interest in a space to put a deposit on one of the 20 completed studios on the second floor of the building. There were line ups to secure leases for those studios while others visited the first floor to view plans for future studios, envisioning the    space when bumper cars, billboards for Adventure Fun Packages are gone, when glass bricks are replaced with windows.

Bergquist praised Donna Parent and Sarah McClurg, property managers for Stonewater Properties, who worked collaboratively in designing and renovating the space effectively. The 40 parking spaces, easy access to public transport, and wide entrance ports for moving and loading oversize sculptures are a bonus. Although there is no communal meeting room, it seems inevitable there will be organic growth of community because so many creative people will be working under one roof. As one prospective tenant noted, “How great it is to have Overflow Brewery and a food truck right next door.”

“Above all, we want to emphasize the independence of the artists,” Kathy Bergquist said. “We are providing a workspace and promising nothing else.”

Creating Studio Space Ottawa took imagination and courage.  In September, when the first tenants move in to 2477 Kaladar Avenue, Ottawa’s cultural arts capital will be significantly enriched.

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Help Studio Space Ottawa fund their capital project


Studio Space Ottawa