I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, perhaps something that embodied the stock images in my head, the ones I’d retained from the pages of glossy art magazines. On a frigid Tuesday afternoon, my curiosity about The Brantford Arts Block was about to be delightfully satiated.After stepping into the building I was completely overwhelmed by its eclectically artistic energy. The rawness of the exposed red brick combined with the wood ceilings created a coincidental ambient glow. The Arts Block is located on 11 Sherwood Drive, a simple five minute bus ride from campus straight down Colborne Street.
Just around the corner sat Gerry Lafleur, the current operations manager at the Brantford Arts Block. Greeted by a handshake and the sounds of his soothingly raspy voice, he showed me the building and told me the story of the Arts Block.
“My impression of Brantford was a rust belt city, about eighty or ninety years past its industrial glory years,” said Lafleur, noting the important role of arts in the community. “In my mind, this feeling that Brantford was a sports town. So its kind of cool to see in a place like this that people are interested in art.”
After moving here from Kitchener in 2005, he learned about the arts block from passing by and he had read about the people who were trying to get something going with a space for collaborative arts. After his theatre company later partnered up with the Block, his involvement began to snowball.
At the ripe age of nearly 100, the building bares an unusual triangular shape, which fosters pristine acoustics. It features the left wing as a display for local art, and the right wing for art classes. The centre of the building bears the most endearing recording studio, a velvet couch and an antique rug giving it an inviting attic-party demeanor. The second-hand mixing board has even graced the presence of artists like Bob Dylan, U2 and Neil Young.
The Art Block’s previous location on Dalhousie Street, where The Works currently resides, couldn’t quite produce ideal lighting for the theatrics the block wanted to display. What makes The Brantford Arts block stunningly unique is the open forum.
“If you don’t take up that discipline yourself, you connect with someone. The ideal was always to be collaborative and to share with audiences so there the aspect of participating,“ said Lafleur.
One of the trademark characteristics the Block seeks to promote is eradicating artistic inhibitions. Lafleur explained how the safe and collaborative environment coaxes out hidden talents, “We want people to be encourages to jump in and do things, not necessarily in a formal way, It’s more like just get over your fear and just go and do it. See what happens.”
As I asked him about the challenges of being a not-for-profit, he explained that the City of Brantford has been exceedingly supportive of the Arts Block. Many community art stores often step up to donate as well, but Lafleur noted that pushing economic boundaries is half the fun of the artistic process, as they often seek to re-purpose antiquated items into canvas.
“We are the beneficiaries of an incredibly generous grant from the city of Brantford.” Said Lafleur graciously.
The Arts Block also caters to a variety of demographics. Emmy award winning and renowned Cirque du Soleil choreographer, Debra Brown, hosted a circus camp there in the summer. The Arts Block also hosts various recording sessions with local musicians, guest speakers, workshops for the elderly and a variety of skills classes.
The Arts Block is completely receptive to all varieties and disciplines of artistic expression, and there is truly no better time to relinquish some of those nagging artistic cravings. In the words of Gerry Lafleur, “If you’re an artist, come up with some kind of crazy idea- and let’s do it.”
Stepping back into my truck, I felt completely invigorated. My perspective slightly altered, for the first time I really opened my eyes to Brantford. Looking out the window, each little landmark I passed seemed to be swelling with artistic potential. Gerry Lafleur shed a new light on what I thought was Brantford, I even felt a touch ashamed of my previous impression of the arts community. I can only relay that this hidden treasure is an organic and unique resource that I hope students will explore.
To keep up to date with everything going on at the Arts Block or for volunteer information, check out the Brantford Arts Block on Facebook. The block is featuring a jazz band performance on Valentine’s Day, and Taming of the Shrews will also be performed at the end of the month.