Helen Keller once said, Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. Three friends (and neighbours), Paul, Andre and Stacy, live this quote by turning their living space into a gallery to contribute to their community and to help up-and-coming artists showcase their work.
Names: Andre Bermon, Paul Steves and Stacy Scalisi (AB, PS and SS respectively)
Suitless Pursuit: Founders of Black Lodge Gallery
What exactly is Black Lodge Gallery and what do you do?
PS: It’s a private art club that we run. Most of the time we set it up as an art gallery but we do run other events, like comedy nights and live music.
AB: We try to get the local community involved. In the past we partnered with places like Schnitzel Queen and Clix Photo Studio who’s next door. And we pursue to bring the neighbourhood together. We know that this area [Queen and Sherbourne] is a bit underdeveloped, so we're trying to be part of the gentrification process like Regent Park.
How did this all come about in the beginning?
PS: I was the first one to move into this building. I was looking for somewhere to house my art and this place was perfect. It's a storefront - there have been many businesses here, but the current landlord decided to turn it into a residential building. I saw a lot of potential for it and I had a lot of ideas. I'm an artist and have a lot of art, so it was only natural for me to want to put things up. So then I decided, why not be able to put other people's art up too and have an exhibition?
So you live in a gallery, or in other words, you have a gallery in your home.
PS: Yeah, Stacy and I are housemates here. My bedroom is in the backroom but I put up black curtains so I can hide my things when we have exhibitions. Dresser, books, bed - I hide them all behind the curtain. Stacy lives downstairs.
What do you do as your full-time jobs?
PS: Stacy and I work for Sinking Ship Entertainment and I’m on set - so I'm a camera person. Stacy does continuity, so she’s a script supervisor. We work on a kids' show, so that’s given us a little bit more extra downtime than other film personnel. For instance, we work four days a week and get two months off in a year. With all that extra time, we found that we could do something extra on the side.
AB: I work at a greenhouse. I maintain plants and do the odd landscaping here and there. So it's seasonal, and so I also have extra time on the side.
When did you start Black Lodge?
PS: We had several functions to start with - Christmas parties, friends' birthday parties, etc. But we started with the art exhibitions this year, in February (2014).
AB: We're a bit of trailblazers in this area. Queen West definitely has its art galleries but in our end, there are only a few places that provide art, like Parker Gallery. But I don't think any of them do grassroots things like we do.
PS: There are functions at Qlix Studioz next door, but it's much quieter. And they're a business; a photo studio. We also never repeat artists so we always get a different crowd (audience) as well. I guess you can say that we're building a loyal fanbase.
What was your first event like?
PS: It was scary.
AB: We had a lot of people. But we didn’t even know that it was our first event.
PS: We had a comedian and live music, but I think we wanted to do too much. The music was supposed to be the main act and so we had to focus our lights on them, etc, and it wasn’t the best way to go about. It was also freezing rain that night, so we were nervous if anyone was going to show up.
AB: But, arguably, it was the most successful night. Yeah, we did too much, but we learned a lot and it encouraged us to continue. It was supposed to be a one time thing but we decided to continue because of this.
PS: None of us expected us to do this as a spare-time project. But after this event, we saw the potential. We had 80 people in the middle of winter with rain. Having this many people out in that weather means that we could have more people in the summer. We all thought about it and discussed what we did right, what went wrong. There are still lots to work on but I think we have enough momentum. We have coworkers who know about it and come out, and in June, we even had a Sinking Ship exhibition for one of our colleagues.
What's the process like when you guys plan a party or an exhibition?
PS: We recruit artists who would want to show their work or talent here, by attending art shows. Andre does a lot of this. And we do the same thing for musicians. But as we’ve had more shows and had more people come to them, we’ve met a lot of people and we’re at the point where we’re backlogged with people who want to showcase!
AB: Yup - we have to take numbers and call them up. But it’s a good thing.
SS: We hold a planning meeting a week after an event, and we gather our thoughts. What went wrong, what we could do for next time, look for dates, discuss what talents we want to showcase like a live band, comedy, art...and what our financial feasibilities are.
Is there one thing that people constantly say?
PS: People are surprised that it’s such an inviting and friendly atmosphere, and they say they consistently have a good time. It’s a great compliment to us. They see great art, great vibe, great people.
AB: A lot of artists we recruit here don’t have a lot of previous gallery experience. So it’s great that we have this positive energy going on that encourages them and makes them feel relaxed to show their art. They can answer any questions people have, and it’s just a very open feeling. And they come to us after the show and thank us, and most of the time they show at other galleries after us. So it’s really good for them, good for us.
So you can say that you provide a foundation for new artists. Is that one of your goals?
PS: For sure, one of them. I think we’re still looking for long-term goals. We have short-term goals, like doing workshops. And we just partnered with a new company, Space Invaders, so whether it be an Etsy party, wine tasting, book club, bar mitzvah...we can do all kinds of things with them. By partnering with a local business, we can accomplish more together.
Other goals include providing a safe, fun party and providing opportunities for new artists. We also always want to diversify and have a sense of freshness for each show. So sometimes we’ll get sculpture artists, or a blue grass bands one time and a jazz band the next, have photography. There’s enough that’s familiar here for people to come back, but we want to give people something new to look forward to every six weeks.
But we never know what’s going to happen in this area. So no matter what happens, as long as we have this space, we want to be a positive presence in this area.
What costs are involved when you run a show?
AB: We hire a server, bartender, bands, comedians, alcohol, liquor license, food, a bouncer...and we usually have a lighting company come in a set up lights.
Do you have job titles? Or how do you separate tasks?
AB: We always talk about what our permanent roles are but nothing is set in stone. One thing that’s consistent, though, is our online presence. Stacy does all our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
AB: I sometimes invite people through our social media channels but Stacy yells at me because I’ll forget someone. In all seriousness, most of the time I recruit artists and sell the place to them.
PS: The good thing about having the three of us do this project together is that if someone gets busy, for example, someone can take over. We rely on each other and that’s what’s good.
How do you balance your shows and your full-time jobs?
PS: Kale and smoothies. Six hours of sleep every night. But to be honest, we haven’t struggled to find “enthusiasm” because we’re always so excited to host. We carve out time when we can make time.
What advice do you have for people with aspiring goals for opening up a gallery or hosting shows?
AB: As with anything, you have to have passion. Also, working with good friends and having a supportive community is great.
SS: Just go for it. Do what you want, whether it turns out or not. You’ll be happy that you tried. If you fail, you learn from your mistakes, and you keep at it.
PS: This place that we’re in - I’ve really tried to use my own styles in terms of the paint job, artwork, furniture. So it’s been exciting to personalize the space. If someone has an opportunity to have control of a space, I think fusing it with their own personality will help them focus on what the place is and what it can offer. Those are important questions. If one can focus on the core goals, the rest will follow.
Look out for future Black Lodge art exhibitions and parties on their Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackLodgeToronto?ref=...