Dear Members,

It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to speak directly to you, the membership, so I thought I’d take a moment to do just that. I’ve now been Executive Director for just over a year, and in that time I’ve listened, watched, learned – I’ve heard what matters to the community and measured it against GAC’s existing resources.

Over the past year, we have introduced innovative and new programming, notably the Activating Art Microgrant Program (in partnership with the City of Guelph and the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition) in which we funded 18 projects and will be funding more in a second round this fall (and another two rounds in 2024). We are equally enthusiastic about a new youth-oriented summer program, aimed at connecting secondary school-aged youth to arts-based community resources. Amid these advancements, we proudly maintain our legacy programs: such as GEAMP (artistic mentorship), Art On The Street, our existing granting programs, hosting exhibitions spaces for our members and several forthcoming initiatives awaiting to be announced yet. Stay tuned for those – we are artists after all, and have a flair for the dramatic!

Today, however, I wish to address a milestone that marked this year – our relocation to the artBar, a space formerly known as the eBar. I was recently challenged by a member who did not understand how the move was in keeping with GAC’s goals. It’s a view I understand. The rationale behind the artBar can be explained with a simple phrase that has become, and will continue to be a guiding principle for me: making space.

For those who were at our AGM and had to suffer through my speech, you will know that in the past I worked in the addictions and mental health sector. There is a phrase that is often used in addictions support that has become one of my guiding principles, and aptly applies:

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always got”

We are doing something we’ve never done. Proactively making space for the arts.

It will not surprise you to learn that I, and many others, feel GAC is underfunded and under-resourced. Having advised charitable and nonprofit organizations as a consultant, I am acutely aware that our greatest asset lies in our dedicated team. This is no less true for GAC. Our staff is dedicated and gives far more than they receive. But in lieu of flow-through funding for the community (which has started with the Microgrant program), and the grant-supported programs that we run such as GEAMP, we will always have hard limits on what we can offer the community in terms of partnerships and resources.

The artBar signifies a paradigm shift. We are not only redefining our workspace but actively expanding the dimensions of opportunity for our community. We can finally offer something new: space. Space to work, space to create, space to perform, space to exhibit, flexible, dynamic partnerships with organizations large and small. Space for inclusion and diversity, space for experimentation and most importantly, space for the community. We are making space.

In survey after survey, the artistic community in Guelph has cried out for more, and more affordable space. In creating the artBar, we have not only moved into a facility that can house our entire staff (which our previous office could not), we address this need for space head on, and exponentially expand the scope of what we offer to the artistic community. We are actively making space

In addition, it also allows us to be entrepreneurial and to raise money outside of City Funding and granting programs. Public grants can be a double edged-sword. While they are necessary and useful, they are often tied to additional programming objectives, which means additional work for organizations that may already be working at capacity. The artBar helps to alleviate that strain through rental costs, events, fundraising and sponsorship opportunities.

The impact of the artBar is undeniable. GAC’s activities list has expanded beyond measure. This year alone we have, or will be partnering with: Guelph Jazz Festival, Guelph Fringe Festival, Guelph Film Festival and the Eden Mills Writers Festival. We will be welcoming the Downtown Theatre Project, a queer DJ collective, Lilt Of Laughter, Trace of Tears (Jay Walking Guelph’s one man show), GAC Members’ visual arts show, the Guelph 48 Hour Film Challenge (in partnership with Ed Video) and so many others. Even weddings and receptions find a home within the artBar, their proceeds nurturing GAC’s initiatives directly.

We have spent the summer hosting test events, as we create systems for managing and running the space. We have learned a lot – but the main thing we have learned is that the space works, and the need and desire for space by the community is continual and immense. Our calendar for the remainder of the year is near-full. This, more than any other metric, solidifies the artBar’s triumphant start.

The artBar operates on a cost-recovery basis. Artists and performers can rent the space for a nominal fee (between $250-$350 for 8 hours, depending on their requirements) or for curated partnerships, on a cost/profit split. For example, if a musician wishes to play at the artBar, they can rent the space and handle the bar, the door, all aspects of the evening themselves. This allows that musician to be entrepreneurial – it will take work, but in return they will receive all profit themselves. This allows artists and bookings to host events that will result in fair remuneration for the artist. With curated partnerships, there is no rental fee – we will stock and staff the bar (if required), handle ticketing and logistics. The cost of the event is withdrawn from any profit (with the exception of artist merchandise – that belongs solely to the artist), which is then split equally between GAC and the booking artist. This allows for less risk to the artist in hosting an event, and additional logistical and promotional support from GAC.

If you have not had the chance to drop by and see our new space, I invite you to do so. In fact, starting in September, we will be inviting GAC members to share our space on Wednesdays for co-working. This will be free for GAC members – bring your laptop, notebook, whatever you like – and come work with us on Wednesdays – be in a creative space, play our office guitar and help us create community. The artBar has meant a fundamental shift for GAC. It roots us in the community. Not just a theoretical presence, or an amorphous, ethereal organization – GAC is a physical presence in the community and the artBar is the manifestation of that. And all are welcome.

On that note, operating the artBar takes hands, and we’d like more. If you’d like to be part of the artBar’s volunteer team – front of house, door people, learning sound, general help, please sign up here:

By volunteering, you’ll have the opportunity to see exciting performances, meet others – and after a certain amount of volunteer hours you will receive a free booking at the artBar, if you want to use the space yourself. 

If you have more questions, feel free to ask me: [email protected]. We will have more exciting news soon – new partnerships, new events, new programs. And as I mentioned, feel free to drop by. We have moved into the artBar fully as of last week – and we’d love to see you, because we are here for you. 

Take care and have a creative summer!

Damian Weston

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