The Harcourt House arts center in Edmonton is about to close after 34 years

The cost of a studio space is based on square footage, making them affordable options for many artists.  (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - photo credit)

The cost of a studio space is based on square footage, making them affordable options for many artists. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC – photo credit)

The Harcourt House Artist Run Center has been a hub for Edmonton artists for more than three decades, but now faces closure unless it can raise millions of dollars to purchase the property it is on.

The two buildings in Edmonton’s Oliver neighborhood offer affordable studio space, public galleries and classrooms.

CEO and sculptor Edmund Haakonson, founded by the nonprofit Where Edmonton Community Artists Network (WECAN) Society, said it was the only place of its kind outside of Toronto.

“I think, [the buildings are] not kind of shiny and new and all spit and polished, they’re not,” Haakonson said.

“But as artists we don’t need that, these buildings are perfect for our needs. It was therefore difficult to be informed at relatively short notice that our lease would not be extended.”

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

The board was informed last year that the provincial government would not be renewing their lease in November.

After months of negotiations with Alberta Infrastructure, the building’s owner, the group was granted a one-year extension to raise $3.5 million to purchase the land by November 30 of this year.

“Which we think is actually doable,” Haakonson said. “It sounds a bit crazy, but it’s a lot more doable than what the initial statement might sound like.”

Since 1988, artists of varying skill and experience have rented Harcourt’s 42 studio spaces or are on the waiting list.

The collective has produced pieces that can be found throughout Edmonton and Canada, from Ritchie Velthuis’ sculpture of Bob and Doug Mackenzie in the Ice District to Barbara Paterson’s famous five statues on Parliament Hill.

Studio rental income covers operating costs and funds educational and exhibition programs.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

Haakonson has worked in his third floor studio for 26 years. He said that much of the buildings’ magic comes from easy access to other artists.

A walk through the hall can lead to feedback or inspiration. Harcourt said there is potential for mentoring or advice from more experienced artists for those who are starting out.

“For someone who’s been an artist for a long time, it’s just stimulating to have someone just starting out and it’s a reminder of all the reasons we’re doing this. So the big picture is why Harcourt has to exist.”

Painter Mary Whale said her decision to rent a studio space changed her life.

“I never really felt like an artist until I moved here,” Whale said. “I had three daughters, there’s always laundry to do, but I’ve always painted. I was a nurse for 30 years, but I always painted.

But when you come here, you can leave it all behind and be who you are meant to be. I was really surprised at the difference it made.”

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

The thought of losing her cozy studio was enough to bring tears to her eyes.

“I gave up nursing to paint full-time. And I can afford it and it’s really made a difference for me. But I have no idea what’s going to happen here. Community-based artists are different and they’re just struggling to survive. But this is a happy place.”

WECAN was formed in response to the Black Friday tornado that struck Edmonton on July 31, 1987.

Over 200 Alberta artists came together and held an auction event to raise funds for relief efforts.

from the destruction; a community emerged. A lease was signed within a year and Harcourt House has been the home of the Society for 34 years.

“Now we’re looking the other way, where we need other people’s help now,” Haakonson said.

“It’s vital because once it goes away, it’s gone forever. It will not be recreated.

“Some of the artists here will simply not find a studio space anymore. We will be scattered to the four winds.”


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