It was a big step for the Brantford Arts Block, and a giant leap for Brantford's cultural scene.
Excitement filled the air as more than 150 people came to officially open the Arts Block's new digs at the Brantford Artisans Village in West Brant on Saturday night.
“It's super fantastic,” said local artist Dave Hind, who plans to make use of the building's copious studio space. “It's nice to have a space for community projects."
Artwork by Parker Littell and Heather Verplanke hung on the exposed brick walls and the music of Bry Webb provided a backdrop to excited conversation as visitors got their first glimpse of the 10,000-square-foot building.
The Arts Block hopes the 10,000-square-foot arts centre becomes the city's go-to spot for musicians, actors, visual artists, photographers, crafters, woodworkers, videographers, stand-up comics and anyone looking to hone their skill or learn a new one.
Local musician Katie Iarocci can't wait to use the state-of-the-art recording studio, which boasts a mixing board used to record U2's The Joshua Tree.
“It's top of the line,” Iarocci said. “We'll get tips from people who know how to use it, and they'll share their ideas.”
The Village includes performance and exhibit space, plus classrooms for art courses geared to children and adults. During the opening, many budding Picassos were hard at work colouring and making clay figurines.
“(The Arts Block) will actually be a place where you can go and do and see things, and a place where you can take your kids,” Iarocci said.
After almost three years and as many address changes, Arts Block executive director Josh Bean was thrilled to finally open the arts collective's new home.
“We're really excited to have everyone here and to show off this space,” Bean said.
In a speech to the crowd, he thanked MMMC architects, sponsors, the Arts Block board, a legion of volunteers and other arts organizations for supporting the project.
“It's really taken a community effort to get this space up and running,” he said.
Unlike the Arts Block's former home in downtown Brantford, Bean said the West Brant site is “purpose built” for artists. He hopes that selling out the grand opening proves there is an appetite for arts in Brantford.
“I think Brantford's ready for a space like this,” he said in an interview.
Bean also has his fingers crossed that the community's positive response will resonate in the council chambers, as a decision on the Arts Block's request for annual funding from the city is still pending.
“We pulled this off, but we could still use some help with a few things. We'll see what happens,” Bean said.
Based on Coun. Jan Vanderstelt's remarks to the crowd, Bean may be able to count on at least one councillor's support.
“These bricks have never heard music before. These halls haven't heard this much laughter in decades,” Vanderstelt said.
He gave credit to Artisans Village developer Howard Rotberg for having the foresight to envision the former Brantford Cordage factory buildings at 111 Sherwood Dr. as an arts hub.
“I'd like to thank Howard for the vision it takes to do this,” Vanderstelt said. “As an artist, I'm honoured to be a part of it.”
The real estate developer and retired lawyer has been working since 2011 to turn the 15-acre industrial site into a 250,000 square-foot space for crafters, artists and designers to work on their crafts and sell them. In addition to the Arts Block, the village is home to a candlemaker, ceramic artist, registered massage therapist, printer, photography studio, book publisher, a custom stairs and railings business and a hobbyist who provides boat restoration.
Heart to Art volunteer Joel Roberts thinks the Artisans Village and the new Arts Block building will boost “appreciation for the arts, which is long overdue in any community."
“The Arts Block is really bringing all the arts together."