We are now half-way through this little experiment called TheHardWay. The purpose of this gallery & community commons has always been to get as many people out to 43 Hellems Ave as possible to enjoy (and maybe even purchase) some of the superb art being produced by Welland artists. We are trying to get local art out of the shadows and private spaces and into a public place with regular hours, large windows, and a welcoming atmosphere. So how is this little experiment in local art and placemaking coming along? How have the community, the artists, and city officials responded? Two weeks in, here are some of the results:
TheHardWay received around 200 visitors at its grand opening and is attracting between 20-50 visitors each day. A friend who works at a major Ontario art gallery tells me there are days when they don’t see that many people. There are people visiting TheHardWay telling me they had no idea Welland’s arts scene was so rich. Most of the growing number of artists exhibiting have sold work; pieces from $5 prints to $800 paintings have gone home with enthusiastic buyers. In fact, half the artists exhibiting sold pieces on our first day of operation alone. Artists I had never heard of are coming out of the woodwork and visiting the place. Some have been invited to exhibit. That’s how a community commons works. The amount of people checking out local art, hanging out, and buying pieces has already made TheHardWay an overwhelming success. The public has shown that there is a desire to support local arts in Welland. We hope TheHardWay has been a welcoming, accessible place to help them along in that pursuit.
When TheHardWay was first discussed, several artists were eager to take advantage of the opportunity and their actions over the last few weeks have been exciting and revealing. Most understand that this is a unique opportunity to share their work with the community and sell some stuff. Nothing is being asked of them. No commissions are being collected. There are no fees to exhibit. All we ask is they make cool art. Some have organized activities and workshops. Some have volunteered to oversee family open art afternoons Mondays through Thursdays. Others have stepped up and promoted one anothers’ work. A sing-along recording for an upcoming TheHardWay EP is forthcoming. Microbiology cross-stitch created some curious creatures. The first Canadian appearance of American artist Chad Godt showed off some riveting work. There are many ideas brewing at TheHardWay in all their glory every day. Local artists have flourished, artists from the Welland diaspora have returned home to exhibit, and we’ve discovered new artists who have emerged from the shadows with interesting work. By any given metric, I think that qualifies as a success.
Some members of Welland’s municipal government realized the purpose of TheHardWay on day one. Over the last two weeks I’ve been approached by a surprising number of municipal officials about keeping TheHardWay going after its August 15th closing date. The possibility of funding has been discussed. While this is not something I am prepared to do, I would be thrilled to guide someone in taking over TheHardWay so that it may continue its operations. It would, of course have to be the right person with the right attitude. It’s a lot of work that involves managing a variety of personalities, but the payoff – the celebration of great local art – is more than worth it.
So where do we go from here? It is my hope that the final two weeks of TheHardWay are as exciting as the first two. We have a lot of exciting events coming up. The quiet periods are rare. It is our hope that this little street corner will continue to be a hive of activity as people gather for coffee, enjoy the view and converse with their neighbours. And when August 15th comes? Perhaps some brave souls will be inspired to try something similar. Our downtown is coming to life. There is room for everyone’s ideas.