The Genesis of the EBA: Her Story

Here is the rumour she once heard

Whatever it is, it’s here at the EBA. There’s that unmistakable buzz, that kick of funk inspiration, experiment, struggle, community, that spin of joy that somehow adds up to the real deal – living culture in the making. In a city where the codes of faith run to statistics and policy, it’s worth noticing just how this little system of art-related people actually got rolling. If only you could get this stuff into a data base:

Cell #1: the Spring afternoon.
Cell #2: the old building up the hill on Gladstone Street.
Cell #3: the seed of action nestled in the inner life of a young artist, Laura Margita.
Cell #4: the incredible talents who came here to work.

When she went walking to read the signs

Take Laura Margita, 1991 version. Walking up Preston Street with that “what’s up” stride of hers, her long wild hair and that weird sailor’s cap she likes. Curious young artist. Whimsical. Cogent. Funny. Alive to signs. Even visible signs. Like the “For Rent” sign on that old industrial building over the bridge and up the hill.

Over the bridge and up the hill

Up the hill she goes, carrying her dreams of a space to work. Boyfriend 1991 is with her. But just at this moment he lets go of her hand. He’s not into this ‘check-out-the-warehouse-for-rent’ detour. “Give me a boost,” says Laura. She’s got to get a look inside. “Come on,” says the boyfriend. “Let’s get out of here.”

Artistic curiosity has its pain-in-the-ass side. I mean if you or I had been standing on that same wretched fire escape back in 1991 we’d want to be heading back to the café too. Face it, this place would not assume the halo of “promise” in the eyes of just any passer-by. Pigeons streamed into the third floor through the broken windows. Down below, a couple of architecture students were giving warehouse life a go. But the space was way too awkward for mere architecture.

The future tells her plans

Laura though … Laura is tuning in all these big feelings – full blown physical symptoms of vision. Notice that her pupils are wildly dilated. Her pulse is racing. She is breathing hard. She is in fact seeing the future; a heady stream of personal and public art-related events that goes right to the moment you and I are calling ‘now’.

She knows she’s destined to make many phone calls

When the feeling fades she finds she knows certain things: for sure, she knows the guy standing impatiently down at the curb, Boyfriend 1991, is history; also, she knows she’s going to have to make some phone calls. A lot of phone calls.

First there was the problem of getting nine friends to pick up the beat of this vision and lay down actual dollars. The right friends. The second group of friends as it turned out. Then came leases, and shovels and brooms and thousands of green garbage bags and negotiating deals about everyday stuff like sharing telephone and toilet paper expenses. And somehow all these things got worked in the old kitchen office with the little desk and the big couches and the fridge full of water because nobody quite trusted the stuff in the taps. Laura’s dad helped. Other people too. Even the City helped out with a $7,500 grant.

Dial in big talents

There was something unexpected at the core of the EBA right from the start. Something many of Ottawa’s best young talents were drawn to – no hesitation. There was Alexandre Castonguay, with his inimitable spark and promethean appetites – up for a space to weld and record dance hall tracks and cast plaster ladders and twenty other things, always good, juicy, exciting. Chris Mackay came in with that casual one-in-a-million-talent he wears like a comfortable old coat. Judy Poole found a space to make her paradoxical scenes of secret places. Tom White became a solid presence in this scene too, holding down his framing and mounting business up in the front rooms. There were Donna Eichel and her chunks of lead, Jill Umbach, Florent Viau and his photographs, and Kim and her batik. And Mark MacGuigan – straight-up and dedicated with an original streak a mile wide.

Laura’s dream lives on

The heart of the EBA is still beating. It’s the artists – sticking together, helping each other, keeping the pulse of the place alive and active. Come feel the buzz for yourself! Join us at the opening of our annual open house.

Adapted from “Fall in Love at the EBA”, an article written by Andrew Muir, first published in The Daily Bread, a tabloid produced for the EBA’s 3rd Annual Open Studio Exhibition in 1995.