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Talking to Saw Gallery's Jason St-Laurent: What's next, Redevelopment, and Ottawa's art market

 C.  I’d like to end by asking...

Talking to Saw Gallery's Jason St-Laurent: What's next, Redevelopment, and Ottawa's art market C. I’d like to end by asking...

Talking to Saw Gallery’s Jason St-Laurent: What’s next, Redevelopment, and Ottawa’s art market

C. I’d like to end by asking you a couple of questions about SAW; where it’s coming from and where it’s going? Describe the shape it’s taking and how it’s changing?

J. I’ve been here almost four years. As you know, we are in the midst of the redevelopment project. SAW is expanding by 10,000 feet which means expanded galleries, multidisciplinary space. We are working on an artist’s residency, live/work space for artists, and we’re shaping that into sort of an aortic lab that looks at Ottawa’s relations with Canada’s north — then also Scandinavia, the Baltic nations… Because there’s never that exchange in the north, and with climate change and a lot of artists addressing the changing landscape, this could be a really good opportunity for artists to reflect on those questions — exchanges between Inuit and Sami cultures. There’s all kinds of relationships that we can foster there, so that will likely become a new facet of SAW.

C. I like that. Those are subjects that need to be explored and what a great way to do it.

J. In terms of what the dynamic will be in the new centre we are still in the design stages, but the spirit of SAW will stay the same in that we like when there are no silos when it comes to disciplines. So if you come to our opening, like for Big Bang for instance, there’s bands in the court yard, there’s pop up performances — this idea that we can reach a larger community than just our own patrons, that we can extend that to our younger audiences through the music scene. And that’s very much going to be the spirit of the new SAW, in that we will keep up that programming that helps us contact cinema and music, and all that. We are taking as our model the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. I know that sound pertinacious, it’s the biggest contemporary art center in Europe, but there are elements of what they do that we really love. One of the things is that Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the gallery will be open until midnight so that we can connect with working people, for one thing.

Arts Court Redevelopment

C. So what are you doing about us (the art community) not just continuing to talk to each other — because what I find is whether I come here or to PDA Projects, or Central Art Garage, it’s already people who know what’s going on… How can we speak to all these other people who are highly educated and would be very interested in the culture that we’re marketing to them, if we promoted it to them and spoke to to them in an approachable manner?

J. Exactly. You see it in Nuit Blanche. The second you open the doors to new audiences, you make the environment more pertinent.

C. I agree Ottawa has a lot of really interesting people who don’t feel they are invited, or don’t know about our events, or they think they won’t fit in.

J. There’s a lot of work to be done there to display old notions that certain spaces are for a certain class of people. We feel that by opening ourselves up in the evenings… well you know as well as I do, being opening on a Monday morning is not that useful.

C. Yes, what you were saying about being open at night makes so much sense, because few people feel like they have to have a background in music, theatre to go and enjoy it. But invite someone to an art show, and you get “oh I won’t know what I’m looking at”.

Music at the opening of Big Bang at Gallerie SAW Gallery

J. With the National Gallery people say that is busy on Thursday evenings because it’s free. I would argue that it’s because it’s really convenient for people. That’s something that we are going to test out. Our model is going to become more and more experiential as we get closer to the opening of our new space. That’s because we know that the way young people connect to art and theatre and all the other disciplines tends to be experiential, they want an experience out of it, and that’s a lot more work. Our opening for Big Bang, we opened up tents and stages… but we feel that’s the direction to go in, for us.

Geographically, we are in the middle of the city so it makes sense of us to connect with an urban audience who might have different habits than the suburbs. So we are thinking through these questions all the time, and it’s something our board is wrestling with. With the expanded centre we are now separating the gallery from the club; right now, it’s a thoroughfare, so 25k people come to the events in our club and have no chose but to encounter our programs. Some walk right through but you’d be surprised at how many young people come for an all ages show and say “I got the art bug at SAW”, “I was sixteen and I saw this really cool art show, and that was it.“

C. It’s so true, like anything, you don’t know what’s going to move you until you expose yourself to it. Many of my design clients have amazing tastes in music, fashion, architecture, but have really tepid things on their walls that they have no emotional investment in. Then you start taking them to the gallery. Often the first question is “what’s good”, I say “what do you think is good, what are you responding to?” Your art work is telling your story, it will be a reflection of very personal things. Usually people quickly realize it’s the same thing, “I like this type of music I like this painting, I don’t have to know exactly why at first.” After a while, they understand why. Once you buy one piece it’s like tatoos, I’m told. Once you have one, you want another, and another. It becomes an the art bug.

J. People need to know that there is not wrong way to look at art. Once you believe this things change.

For more information about SAW Gallery, see the gallery’s website:

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