The CO*LAB building, home to Quarters Arts Society, has a sleek exterior with giant yellow garage-style doors that, on the far east end, open to nearly 14 feet.
These doors are not only integral to the design — they allow artists to transport giant lanterns into the space in preparation for the organization’s yearly GLOW festival and Walking Lanterns Parade — they reflect the philosophy behind the space. “It was really, really important to us from the beginning that we create a space that felt accessible,” says Lorin Klask, a founding member and artistic director of Quarter Arts Society (QAS) and of CO*LAB.
“The overhead doors are a part of that. They let us have more of a relationship on a street level with our neighbourhood.”
The doors open to the gallery, which connects to the performance hall by a yellow corridor. It’s a spot that 2020 Top 40 Under 40 Jan Kroman of Rockliff Pierzchajlo Kroman Architects (RPK), who worked on the building, calls a “palate cleanser” — a visual break between the white and black spaces. Two more 10-foot doors open to the performance hall, and a courtyard behind the building.
But it’s the data network hidden in the walls that make the design particularly unique. “There’re all these pathways through which we can send data,” says Klask. “We can make the whole building come alive from a central point.” So, creators and performers can project images or text onto the glass doors in the gallery or create surround sound experiences. The performance hall is designed as an immersive experience that can transform into a black-box theatre with wraparound curtains and an audio system with eight points of sound.
“I’ve always viewed this as a community laboratory for the arts, with each space being a slightly different beaker for experiments to take place,” says Kroman.
The most unique feature may be the building’s existence itself — Klask says a media hub like CO*LAB’s doesn’t exist in Edmonton outside of academic institutions. “Those are the pieces that cost the most … and are not as easily available especially at a community level,” says Klask. Having access to space, skill sharing, and technology is transformative, especially for emerging artists, she says.
SNAP (Society of Northern Alberta Print-artists)
Over the last nearly 40 years, SNAP has moved four times. But there is something special about this last move. “We didn’t so much need new space, but really needed to keep our sights on safe and accessible space so that artists at all different stages of their careers would have access and feel it was a space for them,” says SNAP’s executive director, April Dean.
SNAP had been hesitant to move, considering the expense and time involved. But developer Gather Co. offered a high level of support and really understood SNAP’s value in the community, which made moving seem much easier. Dean, along with several others at SNAP, worked with general contractor Markus Fluker to design the space based on what they knew members would need. When SNAP secured its new location on 115th Street and 106th Avenue, it was an entirely empty light industrial warehouse with two, 3,000 square foot commercial bays (which SNAP opened up to the full 6,000 square feet) with concrete floors, exposed cinderblock walls and high ceilings. It was a blank canvas ready for transformation.
SNAP put the gallery right at the front of the building. “The gallery spaces are a bit expanded, a bit bigger than before. But not so big that they aren’t comfortable for a first exhibition by emerging artists,” says Dean.
The new building has the print shop and gallery under the same roof, whereas they were in separate parts of the old building. Agata Garbowska, an emerging artist in residence at SNAP, appreciates the change. “[It] allows for more interaction between artists working in the printshop, gallery staff and the gallery space,” says Garbowska.
She also notes that there are distinct areas for working on processes including silk screening, lithography and letter pressing, whereas equipment was dispersed throughout the old space. This new layout makes for a better work flow, and safety in light of handling COVID-19 as physical distancing can be more easily accomplished.
With help from a grant from Edmonton Community Foundation, SNAP increased safety measures, including enhancements in ventilation, safe chemical storage and personal protective equipment for working throughout the print shop.
There is a digital lab and individual artist studios. “Those artist spaces were also a big part of our expansion. It’s allowed us to grow our artist-in-residence program because we have more space to house our artists,” says Dean.
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This article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Edify.