moving forward

(a brief history of UPPERCASE)

Today, Calgary's Metro News published an article entitled, "Calgary's Art Central Facing Closure."

As my Calgary friends know, Art Central has been UPPERCASE's home since the beginning. Suite #204 was just an empty shell without shelving or lights when I first saw the space in late 2004. By early 2005, I was a happy tenant in a building concept with a lot of potential. With gloriously large windows, an old brick wall and a white slate of a gallery office, the space was endlessly inspiring and motivating.

Initially, freelance graphic design was my main occupation and UPPERCASE-related projects were side projects and creative experiments. "UPPERCASE gallery, books & papergoods" sold greeting cards of my own designs, handmade notebooks, hosted illustration shows, had a small selection of books on design and a nice supply of pretty paper goods for a growing number of walk-in customers. In tandem with the physical store, I began to sell my offerings online and to dedicate time to growing an online community through the UPPERCASE blog.

In 2007, UPPERCASE hosted an unusual gallery exhibition and launched its first book. The Shatner Show was an illustrated homage to William Shatner (of Captain Kirk fame) featuring 76 illustrations of his life and career. Endorsed by the man itself, the show was a great success and was featured on international newscasts and garnered a lot of positive press. But more importantly, it showed me my true calling: publishing.

In short succession, I released a few more books and decided to launch a magazine modelled after my own creative interests. My blog readership had grown modestly and I hoped that if even a small portion of those readers would support a print endeavour, publishing a magazine on a regular basis could be feasible. The inaugural issue was released in April 2009. (And I officially "retired" from freelancing; there was simply not enough time in the day to do it all.)

Fortunately, the magazine was well-received but I quickly discovered that it was far more work than I could ever have guessed. At the end of 2009, I closed the retail aspect of UPPERCASE. Growing a retail business in Art Central seemed to be an uphill battle—especially when compared to the success of online sales. When comparing the results from a bit of foot traffic with the potential of online traffic, the decision to close physical retail was obvious. (I also had the costs of inventory as well as print bills to consider.) Expecting a baby as well, I knew that though I can juggle a lot at once, new motherhood plus publishing plus retail was just too big of an equation.

I have no regrets about closing my retail store, though I do miss all those lovely stationery goodies and the joy people expressed when stopping by for a visit. I was also aware that closing my shop, a regular destination for many Calgarians, could impact my neighbours in Art Central. I remained committed to Art Central and our doors were open to curious walkers-by and we were active in First Thursdays and hosted occasional shows in our gallery.

For locals who still visit Art Central, it has been hard to miss the steady increase in vacancies over the past number of years. In this post I'm not going to go into detail about why the Art Central concept has been so difficult to sustain. But I do think it would be useful to write a post-mortem about what happened (or didn't happen) here, particularly in comparison to the seemingly successful creative entrepreneurial centres such as Wychwood Barns, Konstepidemin and the American Can Factory profiled in issue #16 of UPPERCASE.

Over a year ago, the Art Central building was sold to a new owner; a property company that purchased this building along with many others in the downtown core. I stress that they purchased the building—they did not take on a stewardship of the Art Central concept, a concept that had been seriously malnourished for many years prior. Now the news is public that the building is going to be "redeveloped" ie demolished to "replace the current building with a taller structure that may incorporate commercial and residential spaces," tenants are left to determine what they're to do next.

The story about the impending closure of Art Central might be breaking to Metro News today, but tenants here have known about this since late January when were told in a meeting that the building was slated for redevelopment. Though I suspected that something significant might happen eventually (rumours were certainly afoot) I wasn't prepared for the immediacy conveyed in a statement by the VP recommending "look for your alternatives now while you can." 

In response to the media queries that I have received about Art Central's impending closure, I would like to state that the story here isn't about big vs little, corporate vs arts. The concept had failed long before these new developments. 

My work and my life have been intricately woven with Art Central for eight years. Now, facing its closure has been somewhat like having a loved one with a terminal illness. After the initial relief that it will soon have a resolution to its misery comes time to grieve for what is lost and what might have been. 

I've been quite depressed about the news; it has been hard not to picture my beautiful studio in a pile of rubble. At first there were days when I stood at my doorstep at home, unable to motivate myself for the walk to work. On one hand I didn't want to be reminded that Art Central could be demolished; on the other hand I didn't want to waste any time away... So I did what I usually do when faced with a problem: I set out to solve it. I am happy to say that I have found a contender that is somewhat different from my current studio, but it inspired me the moment I walked in. Now, rather than imagining endings, I am looking forward to new beginnings and the potential of this new location. I look forward to chronicling that adventure when the time comes.

It has been difficult not to share this news with you until now—my wonderful community of supporters here on the blog and Twitter. I know I have your support as UPPERCASE moves forward and continues to flourish.

Please also support the other tenants at Art Central. For those with galleries and retail, it has been difficult. They remain open for your business!

Publishing books and a quarterly magazine has been far more challenging and exhilarating and fulfilling than I could have dreamed. I am very lucky to be doing what I do.

Thank you.

Onward and upward!

-Janine

As I left for home yesterday, I paused to take this panoramic iPhone picture of UPPERCASE headquarters (mess and all!) Click to view it larger.

As I left for home yesterday, I paused to take this panoramic iPhone picture of UPPERCASE headquarters (mess and all!) Click to view it larger.