Diamond in the rough

The Artel is a hub for creative expression

Four of The Artel’s collective members
Image by: Colin Tomchick
Four of The Artel’s collective members

The living room doubles as a stage, art gallery and soon-to-be yoga studio.

Located at the corner of Queen and Sydenham Streets, a block north of Princess St., The Artel functions as an artistic meeting ground for members of the Queen’s and Kingston communities.

It’s a place to live, make art and perform art.

I visited the seemingly inconspicuous art hub this week and was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

As the synth-esque, electronic tunes of the Toronto-based group Doom Squad filled the air, I stood at the back consuming it all.

The place gave off a very distinct vibe. It was somewhere I could imagine the Girls character, Hannah Horvath, hanging out — artsy but not pretentious, dark but not ominous. The audience was comprised of a wide demographic of high school kids, Queen’s students, members of The Artel and Kingstonians.

They all had one thing in common — a passion for the arts.

Annie Dunsford, ArtSci ’14, has been a member of the collective for over a year and organizes the venue’s music events and exhibitions. She believes The Artel has a collaborative definition, and it means something different to everybody.

“The Artel, to me, is a space that exists to support emerging artists in whatever way we can, artists that maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to have a show in a gallery or play music,” Dunsford said.

Dunsford played her first show at The Artel with her band, Sleuth Bears, and said she found the atmosphere conducive to fostering emerging performers.

Although this art-filled environment may seem intimidating at first, she said students should give it a chance before they make prejudgments.

“I feel that The Artel has this perception of having an insular space — that people have to be this tall and this cool to come to,” Dunsford said. “I really don’t think it’s like that.”

A collective comprised of nine artists, six of whom currently live in the building, operates The Artel.

The venue itself also acts as a safe space, meaning that its members actively resist forms of oppression, such as misogyny, ableism, racism and homophobia. They foster emerging artists and open their doors to all types of artistic expression.

“It’s so empowering to be a young artist, a female artist and a queer artist, to do whatever, and know that people will come,” she said.

After recently receiving a grant from the Kingston Arts Council, The Artel has been able to continue carrying out their mandate by hosting nine exhibitions and several events this year.

“Our attempts to support amateur artists have, in turn, been supported by the city of Kingston, which is wonderful and pretty surprising,” Dunsford said.

Graham Juneau, ArtSci ’12 and current tenant, originally came across the venue as a performer participating in a noise show. He said he appreciates how accessible The Artel is.

“It doesn’t have that upfront cost that other bars, venues or gallery spaces in Kingston have when it comes to actually being able to play,” Juneau said.

As a tenant, Juneau enjoys living among other artists and doesn’t mind having his home used as a public venue.

“It’s an amazing thing to have an amazing show [here] two or three times a week,” he said.

The Artel has broken down the barrier between performers and audience members, said Juneau.

“It’s a form of expression that is communal and broad based,” Juneau said. “It really changed my perception of what a venue could be.” A Queen’s grad and local performer, Amanda Balsys, has been a supporter of The Artel for the past six years. Having originally come to Kingston to pursue a Masters in English and Spanish literature, she found herself involved in the art scene and stuck around.

She said she began her ties with the venue as a performer and is currently a member of The Gertrudes, who got their start at The Artel.

Having been involved in both the Queen’s and Kingston community, Balsys, MA ’10, said there’s a strong town-gown divide.

“You can easily live your life on Queen’s campus and live in a community that’s so different than the community I live in that’s north of Princess,” Balsys said.

The Artel serves as a common ground and has the potential to bring together lots of ideas and artists, she said.

“Each time that I come to The Artel, there’s newer faces that I see all the time and that wasn’t always the case,” Balsys said. “It’s very promising in that regard.”

With a relatively quick turnover — several of their members have just moved to Montreal — the space is constantly evolving and always encouraging new forms of artistic expression.

With plans to start up guided meditation, yoga and DJ nights, the creative possibilities seem endless.

Freak Heat Waves, Viet Cong and Beached Out will be playing at The Artel on Sunday, Oct. 6. Doors open at 8 p.m.


Art, Music, The Artel

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