Artists breathe life into old building
“We are lucky to be here,” Dave Stonhouse says as he surveys painted but crumbling walls and stained ceilings.
Despite the shabbiness of the room, which currently serves as a pop-up art gallery and studio, Stonhouse is clearly proud of the space.
The Saskatoon building, once known as Victory Manor, is currently home to a diverse collection of photos and paintings.
Located in the 200 block of 20th Street West, it’s also the headquarters of artist collective BAM, which stands for Bridges Art Movement.
In Riversdale, a neighbourhood where change has become a constant, the building is currently having something of a renaissance period.
BAM, comprised of Stonhouse, Joanna Speed, Derek Sandbeck, Andie Palynchuk, Evgenia Mikhaylova, B. Johnathan Michaels and Cynthia Blanchette, has been making waves across the city.
During the most recent LUGO party at the Mendel Art Gallery, the group presented an installation that encouraged partygoers to flirt and chat by facilitating anonymous letter writing and delivery.
Since taking up residence in the building, BAM’s members hope to inspire the city’s art scene by hosting solo and group exhibitions under the same roof as their work studios.
“We have a lot of personality — we aren’t quiet people,” said Stonhouse, who admits that he notices similarities between his pieces and the work of the other artists.
“Cynthia creates these massive paintings that end up looking like patterns, and it’s an element that I do as well. We are rubbing off on each other, but we are also like-minded.”
The collective came together after several members began searching for a shared space. After several months, the group stumbled upon its current home.
The new life they have breathed into the building is on borrowed time. The building’s owner, a Saskatoon businessman, has designs on tearing the structure down completely.
“We’d love to stay if we could,” said Mikhaylova, who also works as a print designer. “Our last show, which is mine to curate, is scheduled for April.”
Beyond that, the group isn’t sure what will happen.
The building has a storied history. Several local musicians have used the room as a jam space. Ryan Meili ran a bid for the leadership of the NDP from the storefront. Prior to all that, it was a soup kitchen that hosted sermons.
The walls still tell the story: the old Victory Manor sign that once graced the exterior of the building has since been repurposed as part of the wall that leads to the basement.
The massive wooden shelves that were once a part of Joe’s Cycle, a bike shop that used to inhabit the building, are now gone, but scraps and telephone lists from the previous owner can still be found tacked to what was a backroom office.
Saskatoon doesn’t have an abundance of spaces that would be suitable as art studios, but the room is everything the collective could ever want, Stonhouse said.
“It had a storefront and it was in a bit of disrepair. We saw through that and we banded together to fix it up and create something. It was a bigger risk, but it had the most payoff.”
The connection to the street itself is important for the group.
“A lot of galleries aren’t necessarily immediately accessible, and often people feel intimidated going inside,” Stonhouse said.
“We thought that this could be a way to engage people who are passing by. We actually get people coming inside who are just curious, and some of them have even left with some art.”
The group is in good company and knows it. The space is literally in the middle of a boisterous arts scene in Riversdale.
Next to the BAM building is a gallery curated by artist Cui Jinzhe in the Chung Wah Grocery store.
Across the street is The Storefront, a retail store that has featured several group and solo shows, and Studio on 20th, another collective space. Down 20th Street are the AKA Gallery and Paved Arts, and around the corner on Avenue G is 330g, an artist-run space located in the former Ukrainian Labour Temple.
“We’d really love to see more of these types of spaces come up,” Stonhouse said. “They really help get people excited with the things that are happening in the city.”
The group’s next show is Beta Days, which opens tonight with a reception and runs to March 11.
“It’s Andie Palynchuk’s turn with the gallery,” Stonhouse said. “She’s creating an installation mimicking her fantastical worlds that she paints. The show also features Derek Sandbeck and Sean O’Reilly.”
Despite the limited lease, Stonhouse said he is optimistic the group will continue once it’s evicted from the space. For now, he and his cohorts are happy to be a part of the building’s final days.
“We hope to see a few more people come down while they still can.”
The Bridges Art Movement at 229 20th St. W. is a collective of seven artists, including Evgenia Mikhaylova.
A podcast records an interview on January 24 with Bridges Art Movement (BAM) artists, from left to right, Cynthia Blanchette, David Stonhouse and Andie Nicole Palynchuk in the gallery. Members of BAM use the space at 229 20th Street West as a studio...
David Stonhouse, one of the artists in BAM, likes the space’s connection to the street.
David Stonhouse checks out a piece he’s worked on.