Encorp's Art Central breathes new life into old building

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Encorp's Art Central breathes new life into old building

Postby newsposter » Thu Dec 08, 2005 12:13 pm

Encorp's Art Central breathes new life into old building

David Parker
Calgary Herald

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Neill family, through its company Encorp, has done a great service to this city in buying and restoring heritage buildings along Stephen Avenue. Alberta Hotel, Alberta and Hull Block and the Clarence Block are excellent examples of how rundown structures can be brought alive and renovated into successful business ventures.

But when David Neill strayed over to 7th Avenue and purchased the rundown 1929 Jubilee Block directly across Centre Street from the York Hotel, there were those who questioned his judgment. Especially when he announced he would turn it into a centre for the arts.

Art Central has been open a full year now, and I have to admit to being somewhat surprised and very pleased on a walk-through with Sandra Neill to find that the 38,000-square-foot collective of studios, galleries, shops and cafes is doing so well.

Of the 40 units in Art Central, only seven are left to be leased. There are also smaller spots of around 150 square feet in Art Loop, a new area with 19 small studios allowing aspiring artists to become part of the community.

Sandra oversees the complex and looks after events and marketing. Rob Mabee is responsible for leasing while also running his own Access Gallery. Sandra was heavily involved in The Cellar, the fine wine and gift shop in the lower level of the Alberta Hotel, but the Murrieta's Group recently took a 50 per cent interest in it, which frees her up to spend more time at Art Central.

A graduate of the University of Calgary, she studied art at ACAD and went on to Concordia for a Canadian Film Studies program before becoming involved in the family business. Her own work is on display on the ground floor.

As I visited with gallery and studio owners, I was worried about breaking their creative concentration, but they tell me that's part of the attraction.

Audrey Mabee, former president of ACAD, says she loves the opportunity to chat while working, and her space gives her the opportunity to show off a wide range of her work.

Marilyn Bracken moved her studio from Toronto a couple of months ago and tells me she is delighted with the number of sales she has made, including 19 of her large abstracts.

The newest tenant is Robert Scott Purse, a goldsmith and designer who re-located to Art Central from Granville Island in Vancouver. Just opened, he still has many West Coast clients and a number in Japan, where he exhibits every three months through well-respected department stores.

And local artist Paul Van Ginkel had a successful show at Art Central last weekend, and has decided to open a gallery there to show his newest work. It's thrilling to see so many of his bold paintings in one room.

I also enjoyed meeting Steve Speer, who runs the FourbyFive Gallery of Photography, to hear about his expansion plans that will allow him to display other photographers.

Traffic has improved with the opening of the new LRT station, the popular Siding Cafe and Palette Coffeehouse, and the access via the Plus-15 system through to Petro-Canada Centre. The Neills have another winner.
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Postby josh white » Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:25 pm

I am very impressed with this development. Also, siding cafe is a real treasure in the downtown.
josh white
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