The Welland Tribune
Gallery doing it The Hard Way
Local artists launch Welland gallery and community space
As James Takeo walks down East Main St. in Welland on a sunny afternoon, it’s clear the 43- year- old artist is a lot like the city he calls home; colourful, independent, hard-working and a little rough around the edges.
Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, the tattooed Takeo is talking about what he thinks it will take to turn the Rose City around. With a new monthlong art gallery experiment he’s part of set to open Friday night, Takeo is feeling optimistic about the future.
“In the next five to 10 years, I can see the face of this city changing,” he says as he wanders down the block between Hellems Ave. and Cross St. past a mix of empty properties, businesses trying make a go of it, the city’s historic courthouse and a reclaimed theatre now used for kids programming.
“A lot of us are lifers, but there is starting to be more new people coming here.”
A year ago, he and six other Welland-area artists launched the Black Lantern Experience, something of an underground art movement. Saturday was the anniversary party.
Not surprisingly, the artist firmly believes arts and culture is one way Welland can reinvent itself.
“I’m never going to knock sports tourism, but that’s just one idea,” he says of the city’s attempt to market itself as a flatwater sports destination. “I think there are many more ideas. There’s so much potential here.
“People who didn’t grow up here are saying this city is beautiful, has an incredibly-vibrant art scene and is a very modern, friendly and nice community.”
To help further scult that art scene in Welland, Takeo and a few others are launching The Hard-Way.
Part art gallery, part art school, part community gathering spot, The Hard Way is a one- month downtown storefront experiment at the corner of Hellems Ave. and Division St., kicking off Friday.
“When I see empty buildings I see opportunities. Maybe it’s the artist or creative point of view. Where others see a lack of opportunity, I see a lot of it,” Takeo says
The gallery idea came from Port Colborne high school teacher Kevin Santone and his friend Chris Prior. Both support the arts and thought the small financial risk — it’s costing $450 for one month’s rent — was worth it.
“We wanted to start as a onemonth experiment and see what happens,” says Santone.
The project is also being funded by local community website mywelland.com, The Tribune and local blog Wellandarium. The community has come forward with donations of art supplies for workshops being planned. And the artists have put in time to turn the former bakery and one-time prolife centre into an artistic space.
More than a dozen local artists ranging from painters to photographers to sculptors will have their art on display and for sale. There will also be art shows and free community workshops nearly every day of the week.
“I would like to see this continue beyond a month, but to me, if this is an experiment and we’re going to measure success and failure, then I’m going to measure it like this: If one person who maybe didn’t look at art before, looks at it, or if one kid walks out of here and ends up painting for the rest of their life, then it was worth it,” Takeo said.
The inspiration for the name — TheHardWay — comes from a book Santone read earlier this year called
The Hard Way on Purpose, about how the city of Akron, Ohio, has survived in spite of the departure of the rubber industry, which the city was once known for.
“They’re trying to exorcise the ghosts of their abandoned downtown,” Santone says. “Reading that book left a pretty powerful impression on me. Akron is a bigger city than us, but there are some similarities.”
The concept for the book, just like the art gallery, is about “building something from the rubble of the past.”
Like Takeo, Prior believes art could be one of the answers to saving Welland’s downtown.
“I don’t think it’s the only answer, but it’s part of the answer,” he says. “Local culture is the answer and art is a big part of that. You get people down here and they think ‘I could open a restaurant or bar down here.”
The Hardway on Purpose author David Giffels said he was honoured to hear the book has inspired an art project.
“I think the notion behind (the title) is important to cities like Akron and Welland, which understand what it means to struggle, and embrace the character and the scars and the resolve that comes from enduring our struggle,” says Giffels, who is from Akron and has decided to stay there regardless of what outside opportunities arise. “For my hometown, for most of my life, there was a lot of embarrassment, a lot of being misunderstood, a lot of being used as a cheap punchline.”
He said cities trying to recover from the bygone industrial era should “own their past.”
“Instead of turning away from our pain or burying it, we embrace it and make it into something new, maybe even joyful,” he says, using the example of a friend who started a similar art gallery in an abandoned BF Goodrich tire factory. To Takeo, TheHardWay name for the gallery represents taking care of things yourself instead of letting someone else do it.
“When something needs to be done, sometimes it’s just putting in an effort,” he says. “When we talk about problems in Welland, gainful employment may be a problem. I’m not saying creating your own opportunity is going to save everything, but it’s better than nothing.”
As his stroll around the block comes to an end in front of the large picture windows of the building that will soon house TheHardWay gallery, Takeo says he believes small efforts like the month-long art experiment could be the answer to bringing more people to the city.
“There are people who a few years ago had never heard of Welland, and now they love being here.
“Maybe we have lots to offer,” he says.