Encouraging Regina’s art scene
Article: Laura Billet – Contributor
The Artesian was designed to make music and voices sound good. Really good. As an intimate space that is simply and effectively designed, it is one of the only venues in Regina where performers are truly the centre of attention.
Owners Marlo Gebhardt and Chad Jacklin wanted to create a space that was comfortable and intimate, where you could really hear and appreciate the music or watch a performance without the distraction of servers, food, and alcohol. Though, of course, there is a fantastic bar on the lower level, so fear not, your thirst need not go unquenched!
Gebhardt and Jacklin are also owners of the Mysteria Gallery, which has been running strong for 18 years and was actually where the idea for the Artesian was born. Before the Artesian, they held smaller performances by actors, dancers, and musicians in the upstairs gallery of Mysteria. It didn’t take long before the team wanted to expand, to be able to showcase more.
“All these little events that we did just got us thinking, what if we took this to a larger scale? [We thought] kind of naively; we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into,” says Jacklin with a laugh.
Inspired and curious, the two began looking for a venue to transform into a centre dedicated to the performing arts.
In 2009, they happened upon the Calvary Evangelical Church. Renovations began, and the Artesian was born. Inspired by the 1920s and 30s when the decor of buildings was full of personality and contributed just as much to the enjoyment of the evening as the event itself, Gebhardt and Jacklin envisioned a place that was both comfortable and glamorous: a place that people would love to go to and love to perform in.
The two were definitely successful in creating a place that draws people in with its character and warmth. In the renovations, Jacklin explained that they wanted to stay as far as possible from the newer style of building which can often look institutionalized and cold, so they ended up using a lot of recycled materials.
In doing so, they not only managed to keep the intimate feel of the small church, but they added style and a bit of history to the building. The wooden beams in the entryway are taken from a grain elevator in Humbolt, the tin ceiling is from a building in Wolseley, and they kept the pews from the old church, using them as raised seating. Even the characteristic letters that form the sign outside the building were salvaged from a different site.
The Artesian is a treasure box of repurposed items and materials from across the province, creating a venue with characteristic warmth and familiarity.
“I always say there’s got to be at least three reasons to come out to an event, and if [you] don’t know the artist or the performer, just coming to a beautiful space should be one of the reasons that draws you out. We want to bring a little bit of that glamour back to an evening out,” says Jacklin.
Yet, it wasn’t just about the atmosphere of the building. Jacklin and Gebhardt needed to ensure every performance, and every type of performance would have the structural supports it needed to look and sound great. They went to great lengths to ensure the stage would be accommodating to all genres of performers. They spoke with musicians and people in the performing arts industry so that they could make changes to the building, like heavily insulating it, to improve the acoustics. Hidden under the stage they layered sand which also improves the acoustics, and they sprung the stage floor, saving the joints of performing dancers.
Though Jacklin says he is surprised by the positive reactions he receives from performers and audience members, it isn’t astonishing to me. There is an immediate feeling of welcoming when you walk into the Artesian. Located on 13th Avenue, it keeps alive the unique and retro character of the Cathedral area.
The bar downstairs feels like a friend’s living room; the couches make it easy to unwind before a show and there is always excellent reading material lying around that will alert you of the next awesome event happening in the city.
One of the greatest things about the Artesian is the variety of events they host. There are comedians, musicians, dancers, and public speakers who use the venue, and it is built to accommodate all of them.
The small space limits the size of the audience and the space the performers have, but it adds a priceless element of intimacy to the performance that large venues like the Conexus Arts Centre lack due to their size. When watching a play, it is thrilling to be able to see the actor’s facial expressions. While listening to a speech or debate, audience members become more engaged because it is easy to actively participate as microphones are not necessary to hear comments and questions.
Every type of performance is made more personal and authentic as there is so much more opportunity for interaction between the audience and performers. Jacklin described how musicians will, at times, even come off of the stage to play in the audience without amplifiers because the space is so welcoming and acoustically sound that the amplifiers are not necessary.
Jacklin really believes in the importance of a healthy artistic community, especially for the survival of up-and-coming artists. Not only do Gebhardt and Jacklin run two businesses that promote artists, they have even had some of the artists from out of town stay with them to save them some money.
“The part I really love about this,” explains Jacklin, “is that creation of community and bringing people together for things that matter.”
Gebhardt and Jacklin have definitely been successful in nurturing the arts community in Regina. The Artesian has hosted numerous events and performances, including names such as Sarah Slean, Wake Owl, Chic Gamine, New Dance Horizons, Graham Clark, FadaDance, and Martha Wainwright.
It doesn’t matter who the artist is, or the type of performance they present; what Gebhardt and Jacklin love to see is people doing what they do because they love it, not because it will make them rich and famous.
“These people are doing what they love to do and wanting to share that. In a culture right now where the performing arts isn’t really seen as a viable profession, the importance of the arts has taken a back seat in our resource economy. So, these people who choose to do these things, again, doing it for the love of it, and building community and bringing people together, it’s quite fantastic,” Jacklin says.
No one can argue against the importance of the arts, and it’s encouraging to see the success of the Artesian in bringing people together for some really great performances. Jacklin says they are excited to keep the Artesian growing in the upcoming year, hinting at the addition of food to the bar’s menu. He is really excited to see the new developments and shows in store for the Artesian, saying that they like to have fun with it, to “see what new and interesting things we can bring to Regina.”
On the venue’s website, Artesian is defined as a type of well that channels groundwater upwards, thus eliminating the need for a pump. They relate this to “our local wellspring of talent.” Fitting for a venue that builds community and sustains the arts in Regina, don’t you think?