The Value of Community Art

Vol ‘n’ Tell is an ongoing series of blog posts written by RMG Volunteers. Raechel Bonomo is an Oshawa native, art enthusiast and second-year Print Journalism student at Durham College.

As you walk into Gallery A, the new community art space at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, you are greeted by the scent of fresh paint as your eyes wander across the brightly colours where paint is not only on the canvas but spilled off and onto the walls.

A concept carried out by artist Pete Smith and a literal out-of-the-box interpretation of what this new space hopes to bring Oshawa.

In the last two years, community art studios or “art hives” have been emerging across Oshawa. The concept of public-based art is reinforced by city initiatives such as Culture Counts, an arts, culture and heritage plan introduced last year.

On a larger scale, the RMG has recently hopped on the community art studio bandwagon.

Elizabeth Sweeny is the manager of public programs and art reach at the RMG. She says the RMG surveyed more than 100 people in the Durham Region regarding art-based community development and found a high demand for a professional space to display art.

Gallery A is the answer to that call.

Opened early this year, Gallery A is a professional exhibition and studio space in the lower level of RMG intended to offer opportunities for artists in the community to share their work. The space also plans to provide educational opportunities to community members including information sessions and technique classes.

“Durham Region is full of culture and we are certainly building on that. We know that artists need more spaces to exhibit, so absolutely it’s helping to address that void,” says Sweeney.

Among these spaces is The Vault, or the V3 Collective, located in downtown Oshawa.

The Vault is a volunteer run space where artists and community members can make, display, and buy art. The owner of the space, Zal Press, believes in the concept of local art and as an economic catalyst.

“If you look back, economic growth and prosperity is grown by the creative class,” he says. “It’s not only the growth but it’s resilience, the capacity to change with time.”
Press considers Queen Street West in Toronto, where he resides, as a respectable model for Oshawa to follow.

He credits Toronto artists for the popularization and economic drive in the area. They were able to draw attention to areas with local art, creating a buzz loud enough to capture the attention of city. Wherever the artists were, development came.

According to Press, development occurred along Queen Street West wherever artists such as visual, performers and musicians occupied. For example in the 80’s, Spadina and Queen used to be an area populated by artists until it was developed into a shopping hub.

“Follow the artists and you’ll find the money,” says Press.

This economic model and new wave of thinking can be rooted to The Rise Of The Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community And Everyday Life written by Richard Florida. It promotes the vitality of out-of-the-box thinkers to create a sustainable economic environment, specifically in cities.

In Oshawa, art and art studios are being used as a both a tourist attraction and a reason to bring residents downtown.

Steven Frank put this idea into action in 2012 when he created Oshawa Space Invaders (OSI), an art crawl that occupies vacant buildings in the downtown area.

“It helps show the potential in individual spaces that may end up being leased as a direct result of our exposure,” says Frank.

Not only does this idea engage local artists, 200 participants in 2014, to display their work as well as art appreciation from community members, it serves as an economic driver for downtown businesses. The foot traffic during OSI last year brought more than 5,000 visitors downtown.

“By creating an event that brings together the creative community in an innovative way we help people envision the downtown as a place of vitality, worthy of investing in,” says Frank.

In the last year, even more community art hives have developed in Oshawa’s downtown.

The Livingroom Community Art Studio began as an idea in the head of Mary Kronhert in 2007 while she was studying to be an art therapist in Toronto. Derived from an article from Concordia professor and owner of La Ruche D’Art in Montreal, Janis Timm Bottos, Krohnert was introduced to the concept of a free, community space where members of the public could walk in and make art.

“Art spaces like this tend to revitalize neighbourhoods and make the areas around them more colourful,” says Krohnert.

A $38,000 Ontario Trillium Grant was used to pay for rent, materials and one part-time staff member, made the Livingroom studio possible. Krohnert also relies on community donations to keep the studio afloat, a call well received by the public that has filled the studio with paint, fabric and even some musical instruments. The walls of the studio are lined with buttons, paper, pipe cleaners, the epitome of any crafter’s heaven.

Despite only being open for a couple of months, the studio has been well received by the community. According to Krohnert, studio attendance has been high with new and returning walking through the door every day.

“There’s nowhere else like it,” says Krohnert. “This is something Oshawa needs.”

Together the creative class is helping to evolve Oshawa to create a more viable, economically strong city – one art hive at a time.


Image- Postscript, Pete Smith, 2015.

Making Methods at RMG Fridays

Our fall RMG Fridays event series has been announced. The lineup includes exhibition openings, book readings and launches, short film screenings, and more, all set alongside the incredible live music performances you’ve come to expect! We’ve got even more in store, so stay tuned as we add new components to each event as we move closer to the date.

Friday 6 September is our first fall RMG Fridays and it is another busy event!

The opening of the exhibition Making Methods is the centrepiece. The artists Becky Ip, Mark Stebbins and Sam Mogelonsky will all be present to discuss their work. 

Making Methods at the RMG


The event also celebrates the opening of Community Curates II, a new exhibition of works from our permanent collection that were recently selected by our community through an online survey! 

The Isabel McLaughlin Gallery will host the musical guests Isla Craig and Native Other (formerly called The Louder Sounds). Isla was recently profiled by BlogTO as a “breakout band.” Read more about her work here.
Native Other are a young emerging band from Oshawa. We’re excited to host both of these performances.

At the event we’ll also help kick off the OshawaSpaceInvaders art exhibition pop-up event. OshawaSpaceInvaders places contemporary art is temporary spaces. In mid-September, six groups of artists will take over vacant retail spaces in downtown Oshawa and fill them with diverse artwork. You can learn more about this group by visiting their blog, and pick up a schedule of events and map at RMG Fridays in September.

As always, RMG Fridays is free to attend and is open to all ages. A cash bar is available at the event. The gallery is open 7-10pm, with a new Nutshell Tour (a quick 10 minute tour) each month, starting at 7:15pm.

Read More:

See all of our upcoming RMG Fridays events here.

Join the RMG Fridays September event page on Facebook for regular updates.

Read more about the artist Mark Stebbins.

Read more about the artist Sam Mogelonsky. 

Read more about the exhibition Making Methods.

Read more about the exhibition Community Curates II.