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Attendees at General Assembly chat and enjoy Rachel Gray's art. Photo: Dexter McMillan.

Black Squirrel Books is taking over General Assembly space in Hintonburg

By Greggory Clark on May 31, 2019

At Artpreneur today, General Assembly owners Sothea Kham and Bruno Soulière announced they will be ending operation of the venue as we know it.

Since 2017, and over the years, their DIY space has hosted experimental music and art presentations by promoters like Debaser and the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) as well as DIY Spring, Megaphono and Arboretum Festival shows.

“We found this garage space that was there from the 1970s,” says Kham. “When we first went in… there was a toilet on the side… no walls… it was daunting.” Kham and Soulière handled the renovations.

Experimental artist Jessica Moss performing at General Assembly.

“We wanted to create a room where people could try new, risky things,” says Soulière. The inspiration followed a show he and Kham attended at Pressed. “We were the only people there to see Jeunesse Cosmique one night… we thought if we could create a space dedicated to experimental art… and promote the venue as such… it could attract a dedicated audience.”

“I’ve been to many shows at General Assembly,” says Ottawa Showbox editor Matias Muñoz. “It’s really an incredible atmosphere that can be obtained when you’re not worried so much about alcohol sales.”

Black Squirrel Books will be taking over the space to operate a satellite event venue. Their popular café in Old Ottawa South is used to selling out shows these days. “Black Squirrel has a lot of young people working for them,” says Kham. “Art places need a change of hands for new things to flourish.”

 

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Announced at @artpreneurottawa that @black_squirrel_books will be taking over @general__assembly 😱‼️

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“Art places need a change of hands for new things to flourish.”

Kham and Soulière say they are saving to buy land outside of the city, which they hope will evolve into an arts residency destination; something more sustainable than renting downtown. “We were located in Hintonburg, which is a quickly gentrifying place,” says Kham. “Finding a place that is central but also affordable is not easy.”

“I’m encouraging more arts organizations to move from renting to ownership,” says Kwende Kefentse, Cultural Industries Development Officer at the City of Ottawa. “I know it’s not easy to do.” Instead of renting in a developer’s space, the idea is for more cultural groups to become owners and developers themselves. “You can reverse the gentrification effect and start trending it the other way… you’re an owner now and you can start entering those conversations.”

Soulière adds: “We met a lot of people who were doing similar things… a lot of record labels, artists, collectives… We were able to connect them by hosting shows together.” It’s a growing network they will continue to foster moving forward.

Eventually, Kham wants to take a larger role in DIY Spring, an initiative which showcases black, indigenous and racialized artists, women and queer people. “As a DIY space, we do need to make space for more marginalized people. I need to re-think how I can do that.”