Big Ideas for Local Art & Music: Local Ideas

Illustration by Kelly Bastow

Every year The Scope publishes a feature that brainstorms ideas for the city. This year, for the first time, we decided to focus on ways to improve or grow the local art and music scene.

The St. John’s art and music scene is pretty great. There are tons of talented people here doing amazing things. It’s relatively easy to get in there, get your hands dirty. Even if they don’t participate, people in the city are proud to live in a place with vibrant culture.

But for all we has going for us, where can we go from here?

Here is a handful of great ideas already in the works in St. John’s.

Written by Morgan Murray, Lauren Power and Sarah Smellie.


Poetry, right? Widening gyres, coffee spoons, yadda yadda — get yourself a Lit degree and an indoor scarf already.

“Actually, we’re trying to cut through all that bullshit,” says Allison Dyer, Interim Executive Director of the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador (WANL).

This September WANL and the City of St. John’s launched the latest installment of MetroVerse, which will put excerpts from 16 different Newfoundland-written poems in Metrobus buses all year.

Each season, four poems by four poets will go up in four buses among all the regular advertisements. It’s a way to expose a larger audience to an art form that doesn’t normally get a lot of publicity, or even a fair shake.

“We’re hoping to show that poetry is an extremely accessible form,” she says. “People are there, on the bus, and they’ve got a chance to really read it and understand it for what it is.”

Dyer, a poet herself, says that even she took a while to warm up to poetry.

“I made those assumptions, too,” she says. “And the stuff you read in school is so removed. But I think that if people see and read what our poets are writing — they’re talking about everyday things, in everyday language — they’d see that none of those assumptions are true and that poetry is there to be read and enjoyed by everyone.”
Sarah Smellie




On the 63rd anniversary of Confederation, artist Bill Rose decided to declare his independance: he left the private art galleries behind and, with his business partner Peter Coombs, set out to be his own art dealer.

“Bill was struggling with how he wanted to show his work,” says Coombs. “In a gallery, he rarely had the chance to talk about his work. He thought people needed to see it more often, and in different contexts.”

Rose and Coombs now operate, where Bill “houses” his work. Rose makes the art, Coombs takes care of selling it. They hold pop-up art shows, which last just a few hours, and they bring Rose’s pieces to folks that are interested in them.

“The pop-up art shows get his art to people who wouldn’t normally go to galleries,” says Coombs. “We can take it to different places, show it to different audiences, and we can take it outsideSt. John’s.”

Doing the work themselves also means people are paying less to own Rose’s art.

“As a senior artist in the province, prices were getting high for his work,” says Coombs. “He felt that it just wasn’t accessible through a gallery. This new model helps bring the cost down, and Bill is now the primary beneficiary of all of the sales, there are no gallery fees being paid. When people know that the money is going directly to the artist, it becomes more of a community thing. People will pitch in to help, they’re offering sites to show the art, free transportation of the pieces — it feels more like a movement.”
Sarah Smellie



NL Musician’s Association Emergency Fund

When Gene Browne, musician and proprietor of The Levee, was left homeless after a fire razed his apartment, help found him.

The Newfoundland & Labrador Musicians’ Association’s Emergency Fund was formed in October to provide a safety net for all music industry professionals in the province, to help with everything from home heating fuel costs to disaster relief. With Browne’s house fire, the fund was created, had its first fundraiser, and made its first donation in the same week.

The sold-out launch and fundraiser on October 18 featured Mary Barry with Charlie Barfoot, Shawn Beresford, Sean Panting, Lynda Boyd and Krysten Pellerin.

“We were able to present our first emergency donation the very next night to the ‘Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire’ Fundraiser for Gene and Robyn,” says association president Gary Johnston.

Browne was blown away by the response. “I feel, in terms of a community thing, it’s a great thing to see happen,” says Browne. “The fact that everyone came together at the drop of a hat, was amazing. I’m happy to see it. I’ve always been outspoken about the whole community aspect of the scene, and it’s good to see it’s still there. We’re both very speechless about it, to be honest. We can’t say thank you enough.”

With the fundraising goals met,Johnston is happy to have a base to draw from. “With the fund created and the first donation made, the focus has shifted to the future,” he says. “We do need to continue to build that fund and our board will be meeting to discuss our next moves and plan future events. You can probably expect to see similar events 3 to 4 times a year.”

Donations to the NL Musicians’ Association Emergency Fund can be made by contacting theNewfoundlandand Labrador Musicians’ Association at or by calling (709) 722-8005.
Lauren Power



Heavyweather / BalconyTV / Radio Hugo

Music video crews are a big deal here these days. The days of means-to-an-end video production and promotion are long over, and music video art is happening here in town.

In October, HEAVYWEATHER, the St. John’s based music video crew of Adam Penney and Justin Davis, won the MusicNL award for Company of the Year. The award recognizes venues, labels, promoters, broadcasters and any group that is, in some way, elevating the music industry in the province. The win is indicative of a shift in the province’s music industry, and the role of music video crews.

“A band can spend from 5 to 10 thousand dollars or more on a 4 minute music video which takes three days to film and doesn’t always turn out the way they want,” says Penney. “Most local bands would be better off putting that money into studio time and recording a solid album.”

Through filming and hosting natural live performance videos, HEAVYWEATHER is capturing and promoting Newfoundland musicians. Their “one continuous take, all live audio” style is their own.

HEAVYWEATHER are not alone in making music videos in St. John’s. Other crews are defining themselves: BalconyTV, the 36-city former art-project that turned into an international organization, hosts artist performances online and has recently set up a franchise in St. John’s.

Hugo LeBlanc, creator of DIY crew Radio Hugo, says, “There’s an audience for everyone. In the end, if people like what I do and bands or artists can get gigs using the videos to promote their music, mission accomplished!”
Lauren Power



RPM Challenge / 24 Hour Art Marathon / 48 Hour Horror Challenge

Sometimes what you really need to get over that hump between aspiring artist and actual artist isn’t better gear, or a better muse, but a deadline.

Couple that ticking clock with a crowd of likewise underslept, overcaffeinated creators around you and you’ve got yourself, quite literally, a real art scene: a shared creative experience that nets great art and even greater community.

This past February more than 260 local musicians recorded 139 albums of original material as part of the annual RPM Challenge, coordinated locally by The Scope. One hundred and thirty-nine albums.

Eastern Edge Gallery’s annual Art Marathon Festival, which has grown into a week-long contemporary art festival from its 24 Hour Art Marathon, has been going on for past 13 years. This year 58 artists of every sort were nestled in every nook and cranny of theBairdBuilding onHarbour Drive, creating from noon to noon.

And now the frantic rush to create is hitting local film. The Nickel Independent Film Festival is holding its first 48 Hour Horror Challenge this month. Teams of filmmakers must write, shoot, and edit a five minute horror short over November 3rd and 4th. The team with the best short will have it screened at the next Nickel Festival and will also win $1000 worth of services towards their next film project. Find out more on their Facebook page.
Morgan Murray


Battery by Gabriel Piller

Battery by Gabriel Piller

Local artist Gabriel Piller has made an album of field recordings from the bunkers on Signal Hill.

24 May 2011

  1. peacepipe · May 24, 2011

    Just bring back the peace-a-chord.

  2. Mallory Knox · May 24, 2011

    Yes bring it back!And while we’re at it, can we talk about a multi-purpose space for art, performance, and learning?! A place that fosters growth among emerging artists?