Gallery do­ing it The Hard Way

Lo­cal artists launch Wel­land gallery and com­mu­nity space

The Welland Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - DAN DAKIN Tri­bune Staff

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 my­, 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.


Pho­tog­ra­pher Dave Bags, Wel­land artist James Takeo, Kevin San­tone and Chris Prior stand in­side what will soon be TheHardWay art gallery, be­ing set up at the cor­ner of Hellems Ave. and Di­vi­sion St.

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