By Charlie Senack
After 15 years in Westboro, Wall Space Gallery has left the community for a new venture.
The popular local contemporary fine art gallery first opened its doors in 2004 with the mission of providing “thought-provoking and engaging exhibitions,” according to its website. The gallery works with emerging and established Canadian artists who specialize in traditional or new media.
Wall Space officially opened its new gallery at Bank and Sunnyside, near Lansdowne, on Sept. 9. Ava Cochrane, Wall Space director of community relations, said the move was needed in order to continue their mission.
“We absolutely loved Westboro. We loved the community. But it was really the actual space. We were getting missed a lot on the street,” she said. “We had a narrow entrance and people would walk by and not know that we have been here for 15 years. When this space came up, we were really excited for the new opportunity. We saw so much opportunity in this space and to transform it into our own.”
In order to get the new gallery ready, adjustments were made to the space which used to house a dollar store. Cochrane said they switched how the basement stairs faced and created a more open concept.
Paintings line the bright white walls and are also displayed on movable walls which can transform the gallery for different occasions.
“We really liked the contemporary style so we painted the front black and had the title of our gallery in all caps to be a bit easier to read,” said Cochrane. “We painted the bathrooms in this beautiful deep rose colour and we have little details, like our hanging wall in the back with all our framing samples on display.”
Tiffany April, who has been a curator with Wall Space for two years, said each space brings a new sense of feeling.
“We have this beautiful window frontage so I think curating the front half of the gallery is going to be a real priority,” she said. “When I install an exhibition – either my own work or somebody else’s — there is that body relationship that you bring to the space. Some of it has a chaotic feeling, some of it’s calm. You can get the artist’s message across.”
April moved to Ottawa when she was seven years old and said Wall Space was one of the first galleries she visited when getting into the local art scene.
“I knew it’s a gallery I wanted to be represented by,” she said. “It’s a very warm and close-knit art community.”
A decade ago, Ottawa was bustling with local galleries in trendy neighborhoods such as Mechanicvlle and the Glebe, but now they are dwindling. In the last decade some local artists have said over five galleries have closed in the Kitchissippi area alone. In Wellington West, the Orange Art Gallery is now at risk of closing at the end of the year after their landlord refused to renew the lease.
April said art plays a significant role in people’s lives and can serve as an archive to the world.
“Art plays such an important cultural role,” she said. “Whether it’s an artist who’s a huge name and selling out or not, it’s about recording our current time period.”
Cochrane agrees and said art is a way to examine and critically think about our surroundings and relay that through a different form.
“It’s a way to express things that we don’t necessarily have the language for. Language can be quite limiting,” she said. “As a neurodiverse artist myself, I find that I can express things that I can’t quite put into words and you can create a world that somebody can step into.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the way art is viewed and bought, with many galleries closing their physical spaces and relying fully on an online platform. Cochrane said while the beauty of pieces can still be admired through a screen, you aren’t able to appreciate the “static art.”
“You don’t experience art the same way that you do when you see it in person. You can see a photograph online and it’s beautiful, but having that ability to print it and get that depth… the experience is different, the scale is different. It becomes much more personal to see things on the wall,” she said. “Arrangements and layouts are also just as important and critical to the narrative.”
Wall Space Gallery now works with a roster of 70 Canadian artists and 10 jewelers, and is hoping to expand its presence as it embraces new space. Many former clients from Westboro have already stopped by the new location, and the gallery hopes to attract new clientele as well.
In the future they are hopeful to host more events in the gallery space, with the possibility of having a barista on-site to create a niche experience.
“We have our dedicated Wall Space collectors and clientele who have followed us here already, but we encourage everyone to come because it’s a beautiful environment to enjoy artists,” April said. “We’d love to have everybody from Westboro still come to visit us.”