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    Oshawa's Artist Invasion

    Wednesday, 24 December 2014 13:21

    Written by Lise Hosein

    You may not have noticed yet, but something’s been happening in Oshawa for the past little while.  There’s a bit of a building invasion happening – Steven Frank from Oshawa Space Invaders elaborates:

    We’ve seen more than one Ontario town suffer economically over the past few years, stores and even factories shutting down. That’s left some cities with an overload of empty spaces. Enter Oshawa Space Invaders:  co-director Steven Frank, who had previously run the Durham Artfest, saw the opportunity to convince landlords to open up their spaces to artists. The result is a successful festival that had its second go round last September. Modeling themselves on the James Street Supercrawl in Hamilton, Frank and his many co-conspirators set up an art district in downtown Oshawa comprised of over 200 artists and a ton of empty spaces that housed exhibitions, tours, and a variety of art-related events. And as Frank says, the citizens responded and began to see their city in a new way:

    But what created this symbiotic relationship between landlords and artists in a city that didn’t already have a super-entrenched art community? Well, as it turns out, having artists as your tenants can be a mutually enriching enterprise. As Frank explains, it offers opportunities in a landscape that might not have many exhibition spaces, and it also gives landlords a unique way of showing off their property:

    Space Invaders is a week-long festival (that takes the whole year to plan), but there’s actually a more permanent venue in Oshawa that goes a long way in proving this model of offering empty spaces to artists is a lucrative one. In cooperation with Durham Takes Action and a socially conscious landlord (more on him later), The Open Vault is a cooperative, volunteer-run space on Simcoe St. in downtown Oshawa where culture makers can work year-round to produce art, musical events, and ideas. Jeremy Smyth of The Vault explains:

    So how does this work? Well, it starts with a landlord with a strong commitment to bettering his community. Zal Press owned a space in Oshawa and started thinking of ways he could use it with a social conscience. He found his model not in Canada, but in Australia:

    Probably one of the most impassioned believers in the future of Oshawa, Press advocates for other building owners in the region to jump on the bandwagon. To Press, artists are the key to revitalizing a community as they bring in creativity, enthusiasm, and the power to realize their ideas.

    Listen, if you walk through downtown Oshawa today, you might not see a dramatic change on the face of the buildings. The streets are not yet filled with artists. There’s a lot of work still to be done. But change starts with a group of energetic participants hungry for transformation, and there are enough of them in this story to make a difference. And other communities are doing the same – Toronto’s Danforth East Community Association has worked with businesses in the area to create pop-up galleries and shops – it’s been a work in progress for the last couple of years.  The Junction’s transformation is more fully realized, but it took years to become the thriving landscape it is today. And that’s largely due to perseverance and encouraging people with new ideas. So will Oshawa be similarly transformed? It remains to be seen, but as Press points out, both Space Invaders and The Vault present a new and different vision of Oshawa’s core, and there are chances here to keep moving in the same direction begun by these two initiatives. It just takes some forward thinking and the desire to see art where you didn’t before, even to buy a painting or two in a new place.

    To keep up with how Oshawa keeps building its art community, check out www.oshawaspaceinvaders.com to find out about their next festival. In the meantime, go to www.the3v.ca to find out more about The Open Vault – you can also just drop by their space at 19 Simcoe St. N. in Oshawa. And, you know, if you’re an owner with an empty building, take note – Zal Press may want to have a talk with you.


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