You know those times when you hear that something is really cool, and you mean to check it out but by the time you get around to it, that thing is gone. When you grow up in Brantford, so it goes.
Lucky for me, I managed to make it out Stir It Up, the cool vegetarian cuisine and speciality smoothie place that used to operate on Dalhousie before it disappeared. I saw Tokyo Police Club, Spiral Beach and many others at The Ford Plant, Brantford’s former all-ages music venue before it shut its doors. I can tell stories about buying records from The Backroom, I’ve eaten fritters and enjoyed open mics at Brown Dog, attended the Brantford Film Festival and spent some time stretching it out at Stone Roots Yoga.
Perhaps it’s as the old adage goes, only the good die young.
When I was in high school, I’d skip class to go grab a coffee and check out the Brantford Arts Block. Back then, it used to occupy the downtown space that is now home to The Works.
After leaving high school and beginning my university education at Laurier’s Waterloo campus, I only went back to the Arts Block once. In the time it had moved to its Sherwood location and I made excuses about why I hadn’t ventured over, despite the fact that I had even returned to finish up my BA here in Brantford.
I had interviewed Gerry Lafleur from the Arts Block last summer for an article about things students could check out Brantford. Lafleur told me that the Arts Block offered art courses, a venue for live shows, studio space for artists, a recording studio, gallery space and monthly events. He told me about how the Arts Block organized an community art boat to drift down the Grand River and that there was room for students to organize film screenings if they were looking for something to do.
On Monday, Brantford Arts Block announced in a Facebook post, that as of September 30, the venue will be closed.
In their Facebook post, The Arts Block states, “In the downtown days, The Arts Block created things like Find Your Spirit and the Funeral for the South Side. We put community art into a health clinic and a park. We showed the weirdest movies around, like an Italian slasher film and a film about driving around in a convertible with Einstein’s Brain.
Then on Sherwood Drive, we brought Debra Brown’s Circus to town and throat singing punks from Mongolia. Indie rockers from The Netherlands went to number one in Holland with a track they recorded here in West Brant…We put up visual art. Installations. Theatre. Poetry. Comedy. Magic. Twice we floated down the Grand River on boats we made out of art. We put on wrestling and the Monsters of Schlock. We had a wedding. And day after day we met interesting people from all over who shared their curiosity and creativity.”
I asked Sydney Sollazzo, who recently played a gig with her band Bad Reed at The Arts Block, about how she felt about the space closing.
“As for my thoughts on playing at the Arts Block: it’s an absolutely beautiful space, so much room, and great sound; it’s possibly the best equipped venue in Brantford. However, promoting for the show we played there was really difficult because nobody knew where we were playing. Very few people I have spoken to in the community know where the Arts Block is, or exactly what goes on there.
I remember when I first heard about the Arts Block it sounded so exciting. Space for artists to rehearse, play, record. It sounds like something from Toronto rather than Brantford. Without the proper outreach the project had very little hope of success in Brantford. Particularly while in the back corner of West Brant that is its current home,” Sollazzo explained. “Maybe the artistic community is too small, and too spread out in our town to support the grand ideals embodied by the Arts Block. We are, however, mighty and prolific. I believe that the Arts Block closing is a statement about our artistic community; we would rather meet up downtown.”
It sucks to look back at all the great things that grew up in Brantford, but didn’t make it. It especially hurts when I recognize that I often allow the “Brantford sucks” funk to take hold of my perspectives, rather than legitimately engaging with the outlets making an effort in our community. Let this be a lesson to the naysayers, who say that good, cool, cultured things do not happen in Brantford, because they do. Culture is there, right under your nose, and if you don’t look fast, it could be gone.