O-Train cancellation halts gallery

By Allendria Brunjes

Postponing the downtown portion of the O-Train has affected plans to expand a local arts building in Ottawa, city officials and local arts organizations say.

The city is planning to develop the downtown cultural sector and expand Arts Court, a building home to more than 30 different arts and culture organizations. The expansion was to go hand-in-hand with the north-south O-Train development, but when the development was cancelled December 2006, plans also slowed down for Arts Court.

“It’s on the back burner right now,” says Réjean Chartrand, director of economic development and strategic projects for the city. He adds it may take until autumn for the city to release plans for Arts Court.

“One of the goals of the O-Train was to promote urban development along the route,” he says. “Because the O-Train is not proceeding, [the Arts Court expansion plan] has lost a bit of drive there.”

Arts Court, located on Daly Avenue, between Nicholas and Waller Streets, has been home to the Ottawa Art Gallery since 1988. As the gallery wants to expand, it has taken the city’s O-Train plans into consideration and is considering moving elsewhere.

Véronique Couillard, communications manager for the gallery, says it needs more space than Arts Court can provide at this time.

“It’s been an ongoing project for the gallery to expand,” she says. “It’s a great location . . . but it is a horrible area for pedestrians,” she adds. “We’re in the middle of this triangle of commuters and peoplegoing downtown.”

She says the gallery has seriously considered moving into the Canada and the World Pavilion, located at 50 Sussex Dr.

She says if the O-Train expansion had gone through, the gallery would have definitely stayed in Arts Court.“But we have to look elsewhere,” she says.

The O-Train expansion would have seen the tracks continue from the route’s Bayview stop, through downtown stops like LeBreton and Mackenzie King Bridge, to the University of Ottawa.

Heritage Ottawa is another tenant in Arts Court. David Flemming, its president, says with the downtown stations came the proposed demolition of heritage houses on Stewart Street.

“Heritage Ottawa lobbied against the O-Train station,” he says.

Stefan St-Laurent, curator of SAW Gallery in Arts Court, says while an O-Train station would bring in more people, construction would probably affect the gallery’s operations.

“I quite love how Arts Court is right now,” he says. “A subway underground would probably be a lot of hell for two years.”

St-Laurent also says there is a lot that Arts Court should look at before expanding.

“Not that it’s not necessary, but I don’t think it’s a priority when the building needs a major overhaul,” he says. “In my view, it would be more important to try to push for a renovation fund for Arts Court.”

Peter Honeywell, executive director of the Council for the Arts in Ottawa, says if Arts Court expands, a professional theatre or studio with the ability to house a wide variety of performing arts may be added. This has been the plan for a while, he says.

“I think what has always been out in the public discussion was to provide public space,” he says.

He also says if this new space is added to Arts Court it should be connected the building. He says it could be a challenge, as Arts Court was once an old courthouse and to attach a new building would introduce a different style.

“Whatever would happen on the site would need to be integrated into the current building,” he says. “The two, in my opinion, should not stand separate from each other.”