words/ NATALIE HARMSEN pictures provided by/ CHRISTOS PANTIERAS (EBA)
From its early days as a bread factory to its present use as an artist-run studio space, the Gladstone Avenue building occupied by Enriched Bread Artists — a cooperatively run studio group of visual artists — has swapped loaves for canvases to occupy an important place in Little Italy.
Now the EBA is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a free Open Studio celebration on Oct. 19, when 23 EBA artists will bring together cake and artwork to showcase the rich history of the building. The cake-inspired pieces are part of the studio’s Ottawa 2017 project, “Cut the Cake – Celebrate!”
It’s the first time visitors to the studio will see the finished artworks.
“We don’t usually theme our Open Studio, but this year is special. We were one of 16 projects funded by the Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture, and Heritage Investment Program, so we want to highlight this achievement,” said Christos Pantieras, one of the artists in the co-op.
“Alongside these works we’ll also be showing some great archival imagery of our building and early-era advertisements of The Standard Bread Company,” he added. “The studios will be open and you’ll see what everyone is working on. It’s not often that you get to see these spaces, so that’s a luxury.”
Built in the roaring 1920s by the Morrison family, The Standard Bread Company factory and bakery was a home for pastries decades before Laura Margita, the current director of nearby Gallery 101, and graduates from the University of Ottawa transformed the vacant building into studio spaces for visual artists in 1992.
Margita said she is very proud that it has been around for so long.
“The most significant thing the EBA has done, in my mind, is it was created by me to be a not-for-profit organization. That meant that it could live beyond my time of me first setting it up. I did that on purpose,” she said.
Each floor of the building has its own story. During EBA’s inception, only the first floor had studios, with students from Carleton University’s Architecture Department squatting in certain spaces, according to Pantieras. The next year, the EBA expanded to the second floor. The third floor was still occupied by a garment-making company for many years after the artists arrived. Once the clothing firm moved out, that space became “The Loft” studios.
Today all three floors are divided into artist spaces, and the building is also home to Clayworks, a ceramics co-operative, as well as Christopher Solar, who specializes in unique furniture design.
To celebrate 25 years as the largest studio co-op in Ottawa, and one of the first in the city, is a significant achievement, said Pantieras, who works with sculptures, installations, and mixed media.
“Although Ottawa is now chock-full of various artist co-ops, we’ve shown that organizations are able to maintain themselves without any major outside operational assistance,” he said.
“Secondly, over the years we’ve had several highly successful artists work within these walls as they were building their careers,” added Pantieras. “There are some significant Canadian artists who have been a part of this organization. I think of Eliza Griffiths, Alexandre Castonguay, John R. Barkley and Barbara Gamble just to name a few. This is a time to celebrate so many accomplishments and milestones. We’ve been around a long time.”
Before joining the EBA in 2013, Jenny McMaster was an artist at the Stables Studios, which was situated in a part of the building where the former bakery had kept the horses and later cars for delivering bread. For the Open Studio, she plans to wear a cake dress in her performance piece — In and Out of the Cake — which will combine dessert, sculpture and fashion.
“The idea is the theme of cake and celebration, and cake is a sacrament in a secular world,” she said.
“The centre of any event is when the cake comes out. Part of it is as a woman, you are often likely to be the person that makes the cake. You carry out the cake, at a wedding you are dressed like a cake, or at a bachelor party you might jump out of a cake, so it’s about wanting to be desirable but not wanting to be objectified. It’s nice to be in the cake for awhile, but at a certain point you have to get out of it.”
For McMaster, 25 years is a time to reflect on not only the history of The Standard Bread Company, but also the artists who have left their marks (literally) on the building.
“When you are here, you see reminders of who used to be in the studio. In the bathroom, the place is papered with maps. There are paintings in the hallway, people painted on the cracks of the walls and made it into art,” she said.
“If you look at the ceiling, there are places where parts of the ceiling have come down and it’s this evolving piece of artwork. You have a studio space but you remember when it was somebody else’s studio space. There’s a lot of leftovers which give it the studio feeling of character.”
Up to 22 artists at a time have studio space within the EBA, which McMaster says creates a chance to learn from others. Artists interested in procuring a space go through a submission process in which they provide images of their work, an accompanying list, an artist’s statement, resume and letter of intention. The application is then put forward to the entire membership to review. A silent vote is held, and if the candidate is successful, they’re placed on an external waiting list.
Twenty-two very different personalities sharing a space, and a building that’s getting old and requires regular repairs, are only a few of the challenges the EBA has faced in its 25-year run.
The studio has also struggled to define itself in an “ever-evolving city,” said Pantieras.
“Our mandate is to offer affordable studio space, but we’ve also hosted exhibitions and events over the years. So are we a studio space or an event space hybrid? As well, our biggest challenge lies in how the area is developing as a residential area and if there’s room for EBA in this growing community,” he said. “Will there be a 50th anniversary? We’ll see.”
Cindy Stelmakowich, an EBA artist who specializes in sculpture, installation and digital photography, said the EBA “has provided supportive and affordable studio space for artists to make art for 25 years.
“When doing either larger scale work, or engaging with messy materials, a studio is critical to have,” she said. “Having a studio is also a psychological space — a room of one’s own —which allows you to dedicate time to getting creative and tapping into new ideas.”
Stelmakowich added that “the bakery heritage of the space is inspiring, and the group of artists that have gathered at EBA are supportive. As an organization it runs well because people have really cared about it over the past 25 years.”
“At the risk of sounding corny and saying it is a ‘special’ place, that is exactly what it is for many of the artists.”