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Gallery 101 looks to the future with a move to Little Italy

By Michaella Francom on March 25, 2014

When Laura Margita returned to Ottawa last year and became director of Gallery 101 the first thing she said was “well, we need to move”. Anybody who’d ever been to the old space would probably agree. Decision makers had primarily chosen the Bank Street building back in the early 2000s because at the time they believed a Centretown home was the key to success. Location, location, location.

Unfortunately the long narrow stairwell proved not only to be vertigo-inducing to visitors and staff alike, but it also made the installation of many works a veritable nightmare. The staff had to uncrate works in the street and carry them up that daunting flight to the gallery – a reality that one time even lead to a work being damaged.

It would not do.

So Gallery 101’s team began their intrepid journey to find a new home. They had a checklist. The new place had to be on or near a major bus – route for maximum accessibility. There had to be an entrance big enough to get works in and out unscathed. Plus it had to be a space diverse enough to function as a gallery but also serve as a space for artists’ studios, screenings, workshops, lectures…and all within a reasonable price range.

As an artist-run studio, Gallery 101 does get funding from Federal, Provincial and Municipal initiatives – but it’s not like they’re rolling in the dough. Luckily we’re in an era of transformation in our fair city. Neighbourhoods are transitioning into new phases of their lives and for Margita that meant an opportunity to become part of the changes we’re seeing in Little Italy.

Located now at Young and Champagne, the new 101 is a re-purposed loading dock with a fantastically skeletal decor: concrete floors, a maze of exposed pipes overhead, and the all-important big ol’ door (at ground level). Nestled in a traditionally blue-collar neighbourhood where people flocked in the city’s early days, ghosts of the rail yards and the well-worn nostalgia of industrial buildings provide an inspiring setting.

Moving the gallery here is a move equally inspired by a look to the future. Margita’s aspiration is for the area to become the Ottawa neighbourhood for artists.

Margita, as it turns out, is the same person responsible for getting EBA (Enriched Bread Artists) off the ground. According to legend, she scouted out an abandoned bread factory and despite its then-poor condition there was something in the bare bones that she knew would work. Twenty-three years later the EBA has been home to many cherished Ottawa talents and Margita’s taking steps again to claim the neighbourhood’s industrial spaces as a destination for even more. With EBA and 101 separated by a mere five-minute walk, I’d say the dream is well on its way.

Speaking with Margita I was surprised to learn that rather than charging artists to use the space 101 actually offers a modest artist’s fee to exhibitors. Very cool, and very encouraging. Everything is being done in the spirit of accessibility and collaboration. Ultimately the aspiration is a neighbourhood full of spaces like EBA and 101, a place for artists and the public to meet up and share ideas, to inspire and be inspired. It’s a vision informed by the gallery mandate: “to provide artists with a barrier-free place to show and the public with a barrier-free place to view”.

Already, the gallery’s inaugural projects embody that spirit.

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The current exhibition, Turning the Page is an array of works created by artists at H’ART Ottawa and their Australian cousin Arts Projects Australia. Both organizations promote artists with intellectual disabilities by providing materials, professional guidance, and exhibition spaces. In conjunction, Jesse Stewart and artists from H’ART will be at the NAC on April 30th for a collaborative multimedia performance.

Gallery 101 also seeks to promote access and support for the arts within aboriginal communities. Working closely with several organizations: Indigenous Culture Media Innovations (ICMI), Niigaan,, and the Asinabka Festival, upcoming projects will include some 6-9 exhibitions and 20-50 events including performances, screenings, workshops, lectures, artists’ talks…everything under the sun. And thanks to the new space sometimes quite literally: there’s room to work outside!

Even though it’s not really grab-an-easel-and-head-outdoors weather quite yet, just like Gallery 101’s crew I’m hopeful for the future.

Check out Gallery 101’s new space at 51 B Young Street (Corner of Champagne & Young). They’re open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.