All you need is art

Grassroots initiatives, co-op groups springing up to promote local art and music

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Open House Arts Collective

(clockwise from far left) Sara Danae Froese, Andrew James, Sam Allen, Stuart Thompson, Blair Whatmore, Aaron Lozynsky, Paterson Hodgson and Olenka Krakus make up the Open House Arts Collective.

The progressing culture of a city defines and separates it from other urban areas. Unfortunately, London’s arts scene can sometimes feel like a younger sibling in Ontario, often overlooked by larger cities and only seldom chiming in with a unique voice.

However, a group of young artists and Western students calling themselves the Open House Arts Collective aim to add a little more maturity and confidence to London’s cultural movements.

The Collective came together from two groups " The Viking Swimmers of 1926 and 33 Yale Street " who shared the same goal of guiding the growing arts movement. Even after merging, the group is still a close-knit assortment of only a few members with a history of creating and promoting interesting shows for the city in venues like The Alex P. Keaton, London Music Club and The Yale Street Speakeasy.

Former Viking Swimmers member Sam Allen of the indie folk band The Samuel Musical and Olenka Krakus of Olenka and the Autumn Lovers represent the Collective.

Krakus, a London Ontario Live Arts festival alum whose band has recently released a self-titled debut, explains the collection of local talent came together last February.

“Andrew James, Aaron Simmons, Sam, myself and Mike Harloff decided to form because of a show and the fun we had around it,” Krakus says.

While the Collective has attracted a great deal of attention for its tributes to important albums in rock and roll history " most notably a sold-out tribute show to The Beatles’ White Album last November " they have been busy building the city’s music scene in other ways as well.

“One of our functions is a sort of promotion company,” Krakus adds. “We’ve had touring acts contact us. Between our bigger [tribute] shows, we’ve set up shows around London.”

In addition to making and promoting music, the Collective ultimately aims to help artists of other areas in the community.

“We’re all primarily musicians but I think we’re all also visual artists on the side,” Allen elaborates. “The community that we’re trying to form is also based around visual artists.”

However, finding time to branch out has proven to be a challenge, according to Krakus.

“Since the White Album show, there’s been a lot of talk of expanding the projects. With all our immediate projects and work, it’s been difficult keeping up with regular meetings.”

Including other forms of art has not been easy, but the group hopes a wider community will become more involved in the future.

“A lot of people that participate [in the Collective] are visual artists. It’s really interesting and inspiring to see how much crossover there is between media,” Krakus says.

“Nothing has formalized outside of music because that’s our medium ... art shows are things we’d be able to branch off to [and] a lot of people we know are involved in theatre in some way,” she adds.

Although the group currently lacks the time to ease into other media, their plans for music in London are impressive enough. The Collective is taking on a number of projects to draw attention to London musicians, including an independent music festival and an independent music label for bands in and around the city.

As amibitious as their plans are, the members are not alone in noticing the community’s interest in art. Other initiatives in London also aim to “inject some life into the local scene,” such as the East Village Arts Co-op.

EVAC, which recently displayed its first visual art exhibit “Grass Roots,” also focuses on providing a number of desperately needed resources to artists in the community.

“We kind of noticed a lack of creative infrastructure all around London, but specifically the Old East Village,” Pete Lebel, one of the founding members of EVAC, says.

“There’s a very wide range of incomes in the Old East Village and although a lot of artists have studios at home and have that kind of creative workspace at home and the resources, a lot of people don’t. So we thought that we could start up an arts co-operative to provide shared space and the resources for artists in the immediate community.”

Not only does EVAC supply resources to local artists, but also helps provide the knowledge and support to properly use them.

Some of the resources EVAC gives to artists include access to recording equipment and instrument rentals, painting and photography supplies and lessons for the budding artists. The membership is pay-what-you-can, which maintains the grassroots motto of the arts initiative.

While EVAC puts focus on the assets necessary for creating art, the group also works to display local artists’ work for the general public. For “Grass Roots,” EVAC partnered with Old East Studios next door and had performances from Ian Doig-Phaneuf, music curator for last year’s LOLA festival, and Our Nation, a local instrumental band " all of who are members of the Co-op as well.

“[EVAC] has been working out really well so far and it’s a lot of fun,” Lebel says. “It’s also really hard work especially when there’s no real money involved, but what’s really driving the whole project is an ambition to create a stronger community and keep the community diverse.”

With a number of talented artists involved with grassroots groups like the East Arts Village Co-op and the Open House Arts Collective, they may be just what is needed for some of the quieter voices of London to finally be heard.

For more information on the arts groups, check out and

" With files from Desiree Gamotin

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