Image Above: Niagara Artists Centre | 1st Image Below: Screening Room & Cinema Lounge at the NAC | 2nd Image Below: Transformation by Jon Shaw | 3rd Image Below: Magic Carpet by Diana Hosseini | 4th Image Below: Some of My Friends Eating Ice Cream by Samantha Jones

The Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) is a not-for-profit, charitable registered collective that is regionally focused on artists that live and work locally in Niagara. 

Founded in 1969, the NAC is one of the oldest artist-run centres in the country. There are about 75 artist centres in Canada, each with their own specific focus. For the NAC, the focus is community engagement.

“We’re more interested in community engagement than a lot of other centres, so we’re trying to find ways to get people excited about contemporary art, whether it’d be visual art, film, media, literary, performance, music, we’re just trying to hit the sweet spot for the interest of this area,” said Stephen Remus, Minister of Energy, Minds, and Resources at the NAC.

The NAC provides space, tools, and the means for local artists to make and display their work. They have rented out a studio where members can work and sell their art as well as clothing and music.

The studio currently houses 14 artists, each with their own space. The studio also has a collectively-run print studio and a tool library, where equipment to make films, record audio, computers, and presentation equipment are available to NAC members. 

NAC members receive discounted rates on rentals of these spaces and also on admission to events run by the NAC, such as workshops. There are different levels of membership, including a student-discounted membership available with recurring and non-recurring annual payment options available.

You don’t have to be an artist to be a member, people from the community can benefit and stay informed while supporting the NAC.  

“The majority of our members are artists, but we also encourage art appreciators, and other members of the community to get involved in anything that they may find of interest,” said Natasha Pedros, Ambassador at the NAC.

Located at 354 St. Paul Street in St. Catharines, the NAC consists of three galleries on-site, in addition to the Flea Market gallery located on 46 Turner Crescent for a total of four galleries.

The Showroom Gallery

The Showroom Gallery is the biggest space in the NAC and usually houses work from both Canadian and international artists. It has recently been transformed temporarily into the cinema lounge where they hold movie screenings every week. Programmed artwork will return in the spring of 2022. They will focus on rebooking work missed due to COVID-19 and will require future programming to be booked two years in advance. 

The Dennis Tourbin Members Gallery

Located in the foyer, this is a project space where members can exhibit and sell their work. The NAC takes a modest commission of 15 per cent to cover the cost of painting the walls and running transactions. This gallery rotates every three to four weeks and is exclusive for NAC members. At the moment, Amber Lee Williams’ Tethered is displayed in this gallery, which explores the connection between mother and child.

The Plate Glass Gallery

This gallery consists of work displayed on the glass window located at the front of the centre before entering. Work for this gallery is programmed a year and a half in advance. At the moment, Tracey-Mae Chambers’ Hope and Healing Canada is displayed in this gallery, focusing on the struggles of the pandemic, battling racial discrimination, and the forgotten Indigenous children in the discovery of the mass graves across Canada.  According to the NAC website, Chambers’ installation, “asks us to stop, take a breath, and consider where do we go from here, individually, and collectively, and how do we stay hopeful?”. 

Flea Market Gallery

Located in a different building, the Flea Market Gallery is a small booth that has been rearranged and made into a pop-up gallery space at the St. Catharines’ Flea Market. Work displayed here is also programmed in advance. At the moment, Samantha Jones’ Some of My Friends Eating Ice Cream is displayed here, which is a portrait series of women eating ice cream on a humid summer day in Southern Ontario.

In order for artists to have their work displayed at the NAC, they must go through a thorough selection progress. NAC members wanting to submit a proposal at the Dennis Tourbin Members Gallery must be in good standing with the NAC selection committee and include ten images, video or other appropriate documentation, a detailed description of the proposed show, a statement about their work, and a resume or biography of the artists.  

After submission, the selection criteria is overlooked by a Board of Directors that consists primarily of artists. The proposal must meet the following criteria: commitment to using the space, the work must communicate in the dialogue of developing, emerging or established contemporary art practices, and the work must meet NAC community standards.

Considering the impact of COVID-19, the NAC was successful in remaining active during the pandemic. There have been slow periods, but they have accommodated the centre to welcome art enthusiasts safely. Especially now that some restrictions have been lifted, they have experienced an increase in attendees. The NAC resisted the urge to move their events online as many other centres did.

“We didn’t think the possibilities for an engagement were as meaningful [online] so we concentrated our efforts in trying to create safe events outdoors and at the centre,” said Remus.

The NAC continues to follow COVID-19 guidelines; the space has a capacity limit in place of 25 people, so there is lots of space to safely distance. It is also important to note that the centre also has non-forced air heating for better air quality.

For the past two summers, a lot of the events were moved outdoors, including screenings on the roof deck, as well as film and music festivals. 

“There has been a great response to all the programming both indoor and out, people are very interested in getting back together,” said Pedros.

The Mighty Niagara Film Festival is one of the biggest events the NAC takes part in during the summer. This festival serves as a great opportunity for people wanting to get involved and volunteer, whether that be by taking tickets, setting up posters, or helping to set up the screenings themselves.

“[The festival screens] films made by, about and for Niagara. A lot of local film makers submit work. The call for submissions will be going out in the next month,” said Pedros. “We had to shift the date last year, but we are hopeful we will be able to do it at the end of June next year. It takes place in multiple venues across Niagara.”

Even though the festival isn’t happening until next summer, they are still screening local, and hard-to-find films in the cinema lounge Wednesday – Friday at 7 p.m. Upcoming screenings include 2021’s Mandibles, a comedy directed by French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, as well as, I’m sorry if I took a toll on you, a horror film by local filmmaker Jake Burgess, who will be in attendance at the screenings to take questions from the audience.

Another upcoming event at the NAC is a performance by Canadian singer Julie Doiron on Dec. 7. The gallery where the cinema lounge currently sits will be adapted to present her band. She will be joined by Dan, and Ian Romano, local artists based in Welland. The show is expected to be intimate with only 60 tickets available. Doiron recently released I thought of you, her first solo record in nearly a decade. She will have two more shows after performing at NAC, those being in Toronto and Montreal.

In addition, they are also partnering the musical performance with Moving Image, where the band will play and then visual artists will respond by collaging films and modifying video.

A little further ahead, artist David Figueroa, a NAC member who currently has a studio space, will be exhibiting paintings and hosting a workshop in Jan. 2022. 

There are many more events that art enthusiasts and the St. Catharines community at large can look forward to. The NAC focuses on welcoming and providing these programs.

“It is what you want to make of it. If you are interested in being involved, it’s not like you’ll be necessarily supervised, you can do what you want to do, the place is run by a lot of people that are interested in making stuff happen. If you are that type of person, we’ll open the door for you,” said Remus.

The NAC is not just community-oriented but is also student-oriented more specifically, as they are also connected with Brock University in other ways.

“It’s important to note that we often partner with Brock University to do different presentations, and projects with the visual arts department, the literary department. We are always involved with faculty and students and we welcome more involvement,” said Pedros.

The NAC also collaborates with other organizations in the area. They are heavily involved with Suitcase in Point Theatre Company; they present the In the Soil Arts Festival which NAC is a founding partner of. They also collaborate with Gallery Players of Niagara, a chamber music organization. The group will write a score to a silent film and perform it live, and the NAC co-presents that with them. The NAC has also been collaborating with Out of the Cold for decades. Members help prepare and serve a hot meal for folks experiencing homeless and/or food insecurity.

“NAC functions as a community centre for culture. There are community centres that focus on recreational activities [such as] athletics, but NAC is the community centre for arts and culture in St. Catharines,” said Remus. 

The importance of art and culture in the community is vital, and the NAC strives to support and proliferate this. In spite of a number of obstacles from the pandemic, they continue to safely adapt to safely welcome and support the community.

For more information visit their website, their Instagram @niagaraartistscentre, or their Twitter @NiagaraArtists.