This is a city where creativity and community go hand in hand. In this series I’m exploring the local businesses and spaces whose collaborative natures make them more than the sum of their parts.
How important is collaboration in the act of creation? For Chelsea Boos, “It’s huge. It’s the whole thing.” When she and Sean Bliss opened the Drawing Room in 2013, their goal was to bring people together to form an interdisciplinary community and help foster discussion and collaboration. According to their manifesto, part of their mission is to “design serendipity.” When I ask her about how they go about creating such an environment, she emphasizes that it comes down to building a collection. From collecting the right people to having the right materials lying around, this delicate process requires a lot of cultivation and nurturing, according to Boos. When you have a good collection, you have the potential for things — materials, ideas, projects, and partnerships — to start combining in unexpected ways.
“It’s just amazing what comes out of it — neither one of you could have come up with the same thing alone, but together you’re creating something that is completely co-authored.”
Boos has been interested in multidisciplinary work since her days at the University of Alberta where she split her time equally between fine art and both visual communication and industrial design.
“I liked the way that they fed each other. One aspect of my practice would influence the other part of my practice and they would play off each other and new things would come out,” she says.
She spent two years in Montreal after graduation, and was inspired by the level of artistic output that she encountered there, and was eager to see that sort of vibrancy happen in Edmonton. Lured back by her mother’s descriptions of the exciting things happening here — the 118 Avenue revitalization was just getting started at the time — Boos returned and found that Edmonton seemed much more open to her endeavours than Montreal had been. She adds her consensus to the popular idea that in Edmonton, “This is a great scale to make an impact, for everyday people to do something. This is the kind of city you can make contributions to.” She found a supportive community and a supportive city administration, and was spurred on to begin working toward making Edmonton the type of place “where you want to live. A healthy city.”
The Drawing Room is a co-work space and gallery at 10253 97 St., offering affordable studio space to artists, as well as space for events and gatherings. Designed to be accessible to the community, Boos said she is pleased that people feel comfortable enough to come in off the street and ask about what’s going on.
“That’s important to me, that it doesn’t feel like a hands-off space,” she explains. Over the year and a half that’s it’s been open, it has also served its purpose as a place for encouraging cross-pollination and collaboration. “The Drawing Room is a great example of how just being around those people in the same space, not necessarily even spending that much time together, but being aware of what they’re doing, changes your perspective on your own work. You can see it from other angles or perspectives and it helps generate more ideas, associations.”
One of these ideas was the recent Park(ing) Day, where artists and designers turned parking spaces along 101 Street into temporary art installations, with the purpose of creating a discussion around the use of public space. Boos says she would like to see more attempts like this to push the boundaries and promote dissenting ideas. She’s hoping that the Drawing Room will evolve to “push people’s perceptions or prejudgments of art and of creative economies and get more attention on what the artist’s role was in the beginning, which was a [rebellion] of sorts.”
With the successful space only a year and a half old, Boos and her husband Bliss are already planning to expand to a new building. This time they will combine with three other businesses under the umbrella of the OT Collective (the name jokingly comes from the fact that all four partners have full-time jobs and are working overtime on this project). With this move they are not only hoping for a more comfortable space (their current location doesn’t have a furnace), but they also want to up the professional ante. In addition, Boos says “the potential for gatherings is huge. That’s the main thing I’m hoping comes out of it — hosting workshops and lectures and write-athons. Whatever it is, we’ll have this communal space that we can use to facilitate those collaborations, and the exchange of ideas.”
This organic form of collaboration is what led to the creation of the Collective in the first place. The first part of the puzzle was the building. Boos had had her eye on the Orient Travel building at 10137 97 St. for a few years and when it finally became available, she realized that she would need to bring in partners to help fill the large space. She had already been in conversation with Mike Wichuk and Andrew Benson of Fort Heavy about setting up a shared studio space and they came on board to do screen printing and letterpress printing. Next came Garner Beggs of the Edmonton Cocktail Society, who had been wanting to create a non-profit bar. Linda Ha, who has been building community with her Whyte Avenue salon Barber Ha, was the last piece to fall into place, with what will most likely be a no-frills barber shop. Says Boos, “everyone who’s a partner in that space has been involved in culture and the arts, music, food, for a long time. So it’s a really good fit. And that space could accommodate something we all could live in so it was another serendipitous thing that happened. I mean, I pursued it for sure, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been part of a community already.”
Though the building is far from being ready — it still needs extensive renovations which the team is busy fundraising for — Boos says the collective is ready to get a head start on some of the programming that they’re capable of. Their first joint venture will be a ’50s inspired dance party, taking place this Friday, Oct. 3, at the Boyle Street Plaza at 9538 103A St. Look forward to a dance contest, a cocktail lounge, a cookie contest, Polaroid photo booths, vintage snacks, soul music by the Tighten Up! Club, and much more. The party starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $15, or $10 for anyone who can show their community league membership. Get tickets here.
Though the magnitude of the collective project means that things are moving slowly for now, Boos seems unfazed. From the beginning it has been supported by the community that she has helped nurture, a community that both serves to support and validate ideas while still engaging in critical discussion. “It basically keeps me going,” she says.
If you would like to help make the new space happen, you can make a donation on the Drawing Room’s website.