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Former Guelph Civic Museum

Tribune photo by Jessica Lovell

Business partners Peregrine Wood (left) and Kirk Roberts, pictured here inside the former Guelph Civic Museum building on Dublin Street, are optimistic about their plans to turn the space into an arts centre.

New year, new promise for former museum as art centre

By Jessica Lovell
Guelph Tribune

The deal is done and work begun at the former Guelph Civic Museum.
The new owner, Tyrcathlen Partners, took possession of the building Nov. 30. There are already a number of artists who have signed on to be a part of the project – a new art centre that aims to be big on community engagement.
But there is still much work to be done. “December is mainly just getting in and trying to do the cleanup,” said Tyrcathlen principal Kirk Roberts.
The community should expect to learn about some of the building’s artist tenants and their programming and activities by January, but December will be about dirty work, he said. “There are still fibreglass trees . . . on the west side of the building a lot of the windows are boarded up,” said Roberts, describing some of the work that needs to be done. “Most of it is just opening it up and letting the light in.”
The three-storey building has about 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of usable space, including the basement, most of which will be used by visual artists, he said.
“Given its size and what we can do with it, there is a real potential for giving it a visual arts focus,” Roberts said of the building.
He and business partner Peregrine Wood, who purchased the building as an investment, plan to call the building “Mrs. Black’s Boarding House of the Arts,” a name that connects the building with its history.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a Mrs. Black operated a boarding house in the building. It also served as a home for many Ontario Agricultural College students.
Tyrcathlen specializes in heritage properties, and connecting with the building’s history is important, said Wood.
Boarding house “residents” will be a variety of artists, both professional and emerging. There will be both private and shared workspaces, as well as classroom and programming space.
The hope is that the centre will be “a place that’s dynamic and also engages the community,” said Roberts.
“It will probably be one of the most interesting things about this space, to see how it defines itself and how a community is created in here,” said Wood.
They originally hoped to incorporate space for performing artists, but discovered limitations on the amount of space available for performance.
There may still be an option for workshops and performances of some kind to take place on the ground floor – what Wood and Roberts are calling the public or community space.
“We haven’t really figured out the configuration for this space yet,” said Wood. “All we know is we want it to be flexible and multi-use.”
The ground floor space will probably incorporate gallery space, and, down the road, they hope to have some one interested in running a café there, too.
On the second floor, there may be some office space. But the majority of the space will be divided between an education program offering art classes and camps for children and adults, and the “emerging artist” and “Mentor in Residence” programs.
“That’s something we’re really excited about,” said Roberts.
Mentor in Residence will offer mentorship to emerging and mid-career artists, while the emerging artist program will offer studio space and gallery space for up to six early career artists.
The third floor will be dedicated to private studio space for about six artists. Some of those spaces have been claimed, but some are still available, and details are on Tyrcathlen’s website,
A plan for the basement space has not yet been defined, but it appears to be the most sound-proof area in the building. It also has work space that may be appropriate for the work of stretching paper and canvas, and a printmaker has expressed interest in some of the space, said Wood.
The pair is pleased with the progress made so far, but they still have a ways to go, she said.
“It’s been a lot of work, and we’re kind of glad we’re got as far as we have, but we’re got a lot more to do,” she said.

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