A Hive Of Creative Activity, Open To All

The ARTery provides a much needed gathering space for local artists

In contemplating the best things about Edmonton the other day, the ARTery readily came to mind, though I must admit it’s hard for me to separate its current, ongoing best-ness from the long history of the space as a muster point for creators and patrons of local culture.

Over the last two decades anyhow, 9535 Jasper Ave., a vast, barely utilized building on a disused arm of the city’s former main drag has been a hive of creative activity, from its days as the barely legal live music venue El Zorro Loco, through its long service as CJSR’s satellite live music studio and ad hoc performance space, tended and tolerated by various artists and artist enablers who also called the upper floors of the rickety building home.

“It was like a little hidden artist’s enclave where you could make as much noise as you wanted and no one would complain – though sometimes they did – and you could pay a hundred bucks a month and have this huge studio space,” says Lori Gawryluik, the ARTery’s “boss lady,” who was establishing herself as a sound engineer at CJSR and live music venues when she moved into the Jasper Avenue loft in 1994, and who went on to co-found the Boyle Street Performing Arts Society to administer the space that would become Studio E.

“It’s been frustrating to watch all of these spaces go down, to have them stand empty. There’s no pressure on the owners to keep the properties up or ensure they remain useful.”

When it came time to move out, Gawryluik wanted to figure out a way to keep the building from falling into disuse again. She admits a performance venue wasn’t necessarily what she had in mind.

“I wanted it to be more of a daytime space — an art gallery-type space with a recording facility upstairs — but within a couple of weeks, people were coming to me asking if they could do events in there. Because of my history as a sound person and because I already had a lot of gear, I was a natural person to approach.”

Clearly there was (and will always be) a need for places where independent artists can expose their talents and, officially since 2009, the ARTery has been the accessible alternative to venues mostly or wholly given over to presenting cultural product from outside the city limits.

Though the ARTery is certainly dependent on your patronage to keep its doors open, the art is very much the reason for its existence.

“The concept was based on trying to create an affordable, high quality space that’s available to arts organizations, individual artists, promoters, bands and so forth, so that anyone can afford to use the space to put on events,” Gawryluik says. “It was important for us to not be a bar or a nightclub or a restaurant. It took us a while to make sure we had a theatre licence for alcohol so we could all-ages events, to be more of a community-accessible space.

“The greatest thing about the ARTery is that it is a venue that can and will accommodate everyone,” says Amelia Aspen, who schedules events for the venue.

“Rookie promoters cut their baby rocker teeth putting on their first shows there, emerging artists still establishing their buzz can exhibit their work, and old favourites always come back because the ARTery doesn’t have the same profit-driven business model as most bar venues are forced to have, so artists’ needs tend to be a higher priority.”

Plus Edmonton musicians need a place to play. Let’s face it, competition is tight for stage time in this town with the sheer quantity of touring acts, established talent and niche stages squeezing up-n-comers out of the spotlight.

Rarer yet are those opportunities that occur in a space that caters to consumers of culture, rather than draft beer and nacho platters.

(That said, the ARTery does boast a pretty spiffy kitchen overseen by Gawryluik’s husband Jason Colvin, and for a time hosted a legendarily marvelous live music weekend brunch.)

But the ARTery’s utility extends beyond its status as a music stage.

“In any given week, the ARTery is host to shows by community dance groups, CD and video launch parties for local bands, touring artists, fundraisers for arts non-profits, visual art exhibitions and more,” Aspen says.

ARTery has also become a key venue for supporting activities in Edmonton’s literary community.

“We’ve had the poetry festival for last three years, and it’s been really interesting watching the growth of the poetry community in Edmonton,” Gawryluik says “We had John Ralston Saul there for Lit Fest a couple of years ago and all these MLAs were walking around, then the next day, we had [a group art show called] Cockfight. Every day is different.”

Gawryluik adds that, while the recession has meant a reprieve for the building that houses the ARTery, it’s unlikely to be spared by the march of progress in the long run.

“We had the idea that if it is something the community wants to maintain, it will have to become non-profit eventually, to keep the cultural aspect alive in that area as they gentrify it,” she says. “In the event of gentrification going ahead in that area, there’s no chance that building would be saved. But maybe we can keep some culture alive in that area so it’s not all just big blocks of condos.”

In the meantime, the ARTery’s schedule continues to fill up with exhibits, literary saloons, live music and arts-related parties (check theartery.ca for an up-to-date schedule and booking information). And the ARTery’s boss lady continues to bask in the prestige of overseeing Edmonton’s bestest independent arts venue.

“I’m not cleaning toilets before shows anymore, unless I absolutely have to,” Gawryluik insists. “I’ve had three years of that.”

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