Under the Cupola: Visiting the Saint John Arts Centre
by Heather Desserud
Bringing together the old and new. It’s a common thread in our city, and one the Saint John Arts Centre weaves throughout everything it does. A regional facility located in the historic Carnegie building under a gorgeous cupola, the SJAC is home to traditional and contemporary art all serving the communities making up the Greater Saint John region. Even their surroundings marry old and new, the old Carnegie library juxtaposed with the new Peel Plaza.
The SJAC is proving that the region has a thriving arts community, while doing everything possible to keep that community going strong. Five galleries display works from emerging and professional artists alike: during our visit, we saw everything from prints and pottery to a visual poetic experience and film installation. The exhibits operate in seven-week cycles; initiatives such as partnerships with St. Andrews’ Sunbury Shores to hold exhibit swaps and the production of marketing collateral increases the exposure for artists. It’s an opportunity for experienced and emerging artists alike to show their works and receive fees to support their art.
Support for artists is an important tenet of the SJAC’s programming. Particularly noteworthy is their Portfolio Development Program, which assists high school students in rounding out their portfolios through classes with instructors from the artistic community. The students get a chance to participate in classes that aren’t offered in high school—life drawings, for example—that are often required in applying to university arts programs. By working with students, the SJAC helps to promote the future growth of art in Saint John, ensuring the region continues to produce top-calibre artists for years to come. A kiln and printmaking studio (complete with a quality press) provide access to expensive equipment that would otherwise not always be within reach for an emerging artist, and classes with dedicated teachers provide valuable guidance as participants seek to improve their skills.
The SJAC is brimming with energy, and it’s no surprise given the wide range of events happening here. The main gallery sees evening events and mixers held amidst the exhibits; naming rights are on offer for the right corporate donor. The SJAC offers classes throughout the week and weekend on a wide range of arts, from traditional practices such as pottery, oil painting and printmaking to digital technology like animation and Photoshop. The Carnegie Rughookers meet here on Fridays, creating colourful fibre art and sharing more than a few laughs. There is even a performance space available for the public to rent, which houses events like the Songwriters Circle and Early Music Studio.
The old and new are linked through tech. QR codes throughout the Centre guide visitors to online stories about the history of the building, showing the curious what it looked like 70 years ago.
Executive director Andrew Kierstead summed it up best: “We believe in embracing the old, while looking forward to the future. In everything we do, we’re changing to meet the needs of the community.”
Visit the Saint John Arts Centre to peruse the exhibits—or maybe sign up for a class or two. You’ll enjoy trying something new in a historic Saint John setting.
For more information about the Saint John Arts Centre, please visit http://www.saintjohnartscentre.com/.