March 1st, 2023 – Guelph, Ontario.
For years, 37 & 41 Quebec Street in Guelph have been a hub of culture – home to The Bookshelf, The Bookshelf Cinema, Miijidaa Cafe & Bistro and the eBar. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020 many businesses managed to pivot to an online model, or to adapt to our new reality through delivery and take-out services.
For live performance venues such as the eBar, this was just not possible and the community had to watch as the Guelph institution – known not only for its performances, but also for its reputation as a “safe-space” for the LGTBQ2A+ community – shut its doors. Owner Ben Minett:
“The eBar closed due to a perfect storm of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions and challenges, coupled with changing business and social trends. We felt it was time to reimagine the space with new people who share our commitment to cultural exploration and support. The eBar meant a lot to us. We took pride in hosting events and in providing a space for many people to share the things they love: art, music, dance and the written word. The eBar functioned as an extension of The Bookshelf’s commitment to community and our dedication to inclusion, representation, and creative expression of all kinds. We would like to thank the fantastic staff that we have had over the years and wish them all the best!”
As the saying goes, when one door closes another door opens.
Guelph Arts Council (GAC)’s recently hired Executive Director, Damian Weston had been told by a board member at the time of his hiring that part of his mandate would be to “shake things up” – to try things that had not been tried and to be bold in his approach to GAC. In his first several months, after reviewing past programming, Weston came to some conclusions:
“The first thing we needed was space. We were growing as an organization and as much as we loved our relationship with 10C, we needed a place of our own. The second thing was that the issue of “space” was central to every artist in Guelph – where to perform? Where to display? With the pandemic forcing the closure of venues across the city (and the globe for that matter), opportunities to present music, theatre, dance, visual art, spoken word, were becoming harder and harder to come by. Just as difficult is finding a venue that does not take a percentage of merchandise or the door.”
It was this line of thought that gave birth to the ARTBAR. He continues:
“It will be GAC offices during the day, but will also be available as a low-barrier, fully accessible (thanks to the pre-pandemic installation of a ramp and elevator) for-rent performance venue. We are not keeping it licensed, which I know will be a disappointment to some, but that comes with enormous cost and logistics, and gives us the ability to run youth-oriented programming on weekends in the months to come. Special permits will be available and accessible to groups wishing to sell alcohol, of course, but the best way to think about the space is as a community hall or theatre. On different nights you will find different events – and we will be programming for cultural diversity as well as artistic diversity. Our goal is to program with such a breadth of scope that within a few years every citizen of Guelph will have found a reason to come through our doors. Despite the name, ARTBAR will not be a bar. That will be an important difference. We have chosen the name ARTBAR for two important reasons: The first is to honour the legacy of the eBar, and the second is that the name is true to our mission: we serve art, we serve those who create it and those who wish to experience it”
The establishment of the ARTBAR will provide Guelph a much-needed additional venue, with a unique fee structure that will operate on a cost-recovery, rental-basis. While the rates are being determined and will be announced in the months to come, GAC is committed to ensuring that artists using the space will keep all merchandise sales and the majority of door/ticket sales – in most cases, they will keep all door sales. There are currently plans to fill booking gaps with last-minute announcements to GAC’s membership – for those wanting a last-minute booking (within the month) rental fees will not apply, and instead revenue from the door/ticket sales will be split with GAC, enabling artists to have spontaneous events without worry about overhead.
The GAC/ARTBAR hopes to begin active booking in June. Continues Weston:
“The ARTBAR will be a work in progress, and have some growing pains – but we are committed to making it a space that is defined by what happens inside. An identity that is always shifting and changing. A blank canvas brought to life by the artists who choose to share their creation. We will be welcoming back friends of the eBar and making new ones with the ARTBAR”
“We are looking forward to seeing the continuation of some existing relationships with artists in our community and witnessing the evolution of new connections. We also look forward to seeing fantastic art on the walls, as well as plenty of fresh energy and creative talent!”
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