A Place to Create

Emerging artists find community and support at collective space

Photograph supplied

Imagine you just graduated from an arts program. Maybe you went against your parents’ advice to be an engineer or a doctor, and instead followed your dreams to pursue a career in graphic design or sculpting or cinematography.

Now, imagine trying to start your career — and it is a career — working more than forty hours a week with little to no income. Young artists dedicate countless hours to their craft, often without any compensation. Many crumple under this burden, while others barely survive, hovering around the poverty line.

You’re desperately trying to go out and meet likeminded people in the industry for support and inspiring discussions, but you can’t afford to go to galleries or openings. Ever since leaving university, you’ve been aching for guidance. You nervously send an email to your favourite instructor, but she’s too busy to meet this week, or anytime in the foreseeable future, for that matter.

Then, one day, you’re walking down Jasper Ave. and for some reason decide to turn north on 122 Street. As you wander aimlessly, you hear laughter dancing out of a small house. The door’s wide open, and the blinds are pulled up. 

Through the window you see what looks like an open gallery. Paintings are on display; people are looking at them, walking around, smiling. You wonder what this magical place could be, and, ultimately, you decide to enter and see for yourself.

You’re greeted in the foyer by Brittney Roy, one of the six founding members of what you soon learn the space houses: Creative Practices Institute. You ask what this place is.

“It’s this flexible, evolving, growing thing — sort of building off of the energy of people. It’s a comfortable, safe environment for people to throw out their ideas.”

“Literally,” Roy laughs, “it’s a seven-studio space for emerging artists to occupy and work on their craft.”

She introduces you to Mo Ossobleh, another one of the founders, who explains one of the founding concepts behind CPI: Community.

“It’s not just providing a studio space; there are so many other intangible elements that are part of the project that would be beneficial to artists. The community element is so important, especially in Alberta. The [arts] community here is so tight-knit that having a space where artists can work together is essential.”

This is starting to make sense to you. But you’re still not sold on the idea. You question the effectiveness of having six separate artists in charge of the space. What can that number bring to the table that two or three could not?

The short answer — mentorship. Roy tells you that one thing that sets CPI apart from other spaces is the hands-on training and mentorship offered within its walls. Having six artists from different backgrounds broadens the scope of guidance that can be offered.

“If there’s someone working in a medium that none of us in the collective know anything about, that’s when we bring in someone external,” says Roy. “We don’t want the experience to be just in this bubble.”

With mentorship programs, an in-house resource library, and the support of the collective, emerging artists will have every opportunity to find their place in the art world.

“Emerging artist is a pretty broad term,” says Ossobleh, “but I think it’s anyone who’s devoted to developing and activating their career in a professional level and working in relation to people who have that same kind of agenda.”

Roy and Ossobleh explain the residency terms: It’s standard to sign up for either six months or a year, with the possibility of extension. Currently, it’s a first-come-first-serve basis, but by September, they say, the collective hopes to be receiving applications and being able to be more structured and selective.

As you’re talking, you pull out your phone and do a quick web search for CPI, and are a little concerned with what you find: An Indiegogo and Kickstarter project, neither of which is close to reaching its target goal.

Roy reassures you that the crowdsourcing makes up only a part of the collective’s finances. They’ve applied for community grants and reached out to artist-run centres to be receiving partners. They won’t be eligible to receive operating grants until they’ve been established for a full year; until then they’ll be working on a project-to-project grant basis.

“In combination with the grants,” adds Ossobleh, “we’re developing sponsorships and trying to build donations outside of the crowd-funding.”

“The studio space is ready for tenants anytime,” says Roy, as she leads you through the empty rooms. Behind one door on the second floor are piles of boxes belonging to CPI’s first resident painter.

The three of you make your way back to the foyer of the reclaimed house. They thank you for coming by and provide contact information so you can stay in touch.

As you walk out the door, leaving the welcoming atmosphere of Creative Practices Institute behind, you have a new outlook on life. You have something to look forward to, and for the first time in a long time you feel like you might actually make it in Edmonton’s art world. —Eric Silver