Art for all
By Mike Foster
An art gallery attached to a pub is a far cry from the clichéd “white cube” space so often seen in the art world, explains Brendan A. de Montigny (MFA ʼ13).
No pretentious wine and cheeses here. Happenings at PDA Projects, situated next to the Lieutenant’s Pump on Ottawa’s trendy Elgin Street, have people spilling out into the courtyard sunshine or onto pleated leather bar stools in a darkened back room of the pub. Exhibitions are complemented with fire-spinners, violin concertos, haircuts and beard trimming, video sculptures and DJ sets.
PDA Projects is a hybrid of a private commercial art gallery that represents emerging Canadian artists and a community meeting place that hosts artist talks, workshops and exhibitions. Established in August 2014, the gallery is the brainchild of co-owners and directors de Montigny and Meredith Snider (MFA ʼ13), who met in uOttawa’s Master’s of Fine Arts program.
The owner of the Lieutenant’s Pump approached de Montigny and Snider and asked them to propose a business model for the space. Both de Montigny, an artist known for large installation paintings and drawings that explore concepts of ruin, utopia and sub-cultures, and Snider, an interdisciplinary artist who works with video, sculpture and photography, had been involved with the PDA art collective in old Hull, and had worked at commercial art galleries and artist-run centres. PDA stands for “public displays of affection” in English or “pas d’acronyme” in French. The gallery’s ethos is to make art accessible while at the same time promoting the work of a select group of talented but lesser-known artists.
PDA Projects includes PDA Programming, featuring events such as workshops on creative problem-solving skills for small businesses, corporations and government, or on art appreciation. Last month, for example, the gallery hosted an event called Pinch Pots and Day Beers. Visitors were given clay, tools and training to make their own pottery while attending ceramic artist and uOttawa alumnus Colin Muir Dorward’s (MFA ʼ13) solo exhibition Maiolica for Marjory, which features painted bowls and tin-glazed earthenware dishes.
“The intention is to draw people in who may not have a background in the arts and to give them the confidence to create,” says Snider.
“Our business model comes out of this love for creativity,” adds de Montigny. “We are representing seven artists at the moment, and want to showcase their work and ultimately sell it, but we are also building a community. I think our generation are rebelling against the big-box store model of consumerism and instead turning to their local communities. There is a lot of art coming up from the grassroots.”
PDA Projects also recently launched offshoot PDA Press, publishing limited edition art books that mix visuals with poetry, short stories, graphic novels and essays about contemporary art. The initiative is partly funded via an Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign. The first three books — The Sameness Between You and I, which focuses on themes of loss through gender and sexuality; Old Man Fashionista, a series of photographs of old men wearing hats by Guillermo Trejo (MFA ʼ12); and States of Homes, a curated selection of work from the personal sketch book of artist Alysha Farling — will be available in June.
Many artists who have been featured at the gallery have been through uOttawa’s visual arts program, including Anne Marie Dumouchel (MFA ʼ14), Christopher Payne (MFA ʼ13) and intern Gillian King, who has curated an exhibit entitled You Maniacs You Blew It Up!, due to open in July.
Both Snider and de Montigny maintain a connection with their alma mater. Snider was a part-time professor last session, teaching a course on media installation in the BFA program, and de Montigny has been a guest lecturer, sharing insights on the business aspects of art and acting as a “guest critic,” helping Professor Andrew Morrow with a final critique of second-year BFA students’ work.
To further support Ottawa’s art scene, PDA Projects now offers a PDA Prize to a fourth-year uOttawa art student of exceptional talent. The prize is an exhibit at PDA Projects, which can help the winner secure grant opportunities, says Snider.
“We really do believe in giving back to the University of Ottawa. We want to instill the belief in young art students that they can succeed and put food on the table by making art, because they often hear the opposite of that,” says de Montigny.
He adds that he believes that Ottawa is ripe for its time in the cultural spotlight. Artists are staying in the city, opening up small galleries and new music venues. In the meantime, the city is gearing up to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 and the Light Rail Transit system, which will run through the downtown core, is due for completion by spring 2018. Snider says this will urbanize and revitalize the city and its neighbourhoods. The city also holds much of the nation’s best art, at the Ottawa Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts’ new 3,000-square-foot gallery, which recently opened on Elgin.
“We are not New York, we are not Toronto. We are not even Montreal or Vancouver. We are Ottawa. But having said that, I think we are experiencing a renaissance in Ottawa,” de Montigny says. “I remember there used to be this T-shirt and it just said ‘Ottawa — It’s a Place’. I think it should be ‘Ottawa —It’s an Awesome Place.’”
And uOttawa’s connection to that emerging scene is adding to the awesomeness. Another PDA happening in September, the Coalesce Performance Art Festival, is curated by uOttawa professor Jaclyn Meloche. So take a stroll down Elgin Street one day and join the renaissance.
Brendan A. de Montigny and Meredith Snider outside PDA Projects in Ottawa. Photo: Mike Foster