Big Ideas for Local Art & Music: Submitted 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?

We polled a passel of local arts luminaries, and opened it up to the crowd online. Here’s what they, and you came up with.


I just want to point out there is no place to practice the hot arts, such as blacksmithing, jewelry making and glass blowing. These practices ideally need an industrial type area, with concrete floors and ventilation. Lots of spaces that fit the bill, of course, but they are taken up by industry. Another issue is that insurance companies don’t want to insure artists who play with fire. A big oil company can afford the insurance and often gets lowers rates due to the volume of their sites. Jessica Butler


More house concerts in St. John’swould be a great idea. While there are a few that happen on a semi-regular basis, there is nothing as established as I’ve seen in a number of other cities around the country. This is slightly bizarre, simply because we are brimming with talented writers and musicians here, and house concerts are a fantastic way to experience music. I should be clear on the definition for those who may not know: a house concert is not to be confused with a house party. Instead, it’s exactly what the name suggests: a concert in a house, complete with two sets, an intermission, and a ticket price. They happen in all sizes, but the result is always the same — a special evening where the audience and performer get to interact in an often profound way. There are actual circuits for this kind of thing around the country ( I think a number of regular hosts in St. John’swould be great for both local and touring artists looking to gain a new audience in the city. Ian Foster


What St. John’s needs is an online forum to act as an outlet for people to post honest reviews of the various events, shows, plays, films, and bands in this city. Most people here, especially artists, seem to fear openly criticizing other artists’ work, even if it is in fact constructive criticism. Everyone can’t like everything everyone else does. You can’t grow as an artist if all you ever hear is “Congratulations, that was great!” Ross Moore


Art has always been a vital element of transferring feelings, ideas, stories and opinions to one another. It is very important for us to teach the younger generations the significance of art and expression by recognizing their creativity. An ongoing public space for youth art would provide such an opportunity. Michael Fantuz


A music fest like the Ottawa Explosion ( where mostly younger bands can get together and build on the punk and rock scene in the city. The folk and indie scene in town is great, and Lawnya Vawnya has been great for that, but a more rockin’ fest—smaller, of course—would be amazing. Make it all ages but put it in a bar, just have wristbands for those who want to drink. I think it would be great. Adrian House


I would like to see more special projects, pop up festivals, and symposia that encourage collaboration between St. John’scultural organizations, artists of varying disciplines and expertise from both here and away. We have an amazing geography and sense of history, but where are we going? What are we adding to the larger national and international conversation about cultural production? Mary MacDonald

Illustration by Kelly Bastow


Tow the island 5000 kilometers to the south.

Move the dockyards up the Southern Shore. Fill up the space left with a park—a place to do shows in the summer and have a hockey rink in winter. Maybe a monument to the Beothuk. And an indoor farmers market with a multipurpose space attached, which has room for an art gallery, art studios, a music studio, music venue, etc.

Yes! Bring MUN’s Visual Arts and Theatre programs from Corner Brookto a new campus downtown. Or at least create a second campus here for these disciplines, giving students a choice. With thousands more students and actors and artists living and working in the downtown core, well, that is a scene, automatically, and new spaces and new events will grow from that. Tim Baker


Rent is high and vacancy is low in St. John’s. Here in Torontothere’s an urban residential nonprofit project called Artscape ( which only leases lofts to practicing and accomplished artists. There’s a screening process. So in short, do this. Put the building somewhere right downtown. Ian Penney


There’s already a Poet Laureate for the city, but it would be great to have a city artist-in-residence and writer-in-residence. Give people three or four months of time to work on a large project, give them a space to do it in, a little living allowance and possibly even have a little apartment where they could live. This would not be so necessary for the local artists and writers who would get residencies, but in phase two of my idea we would also do exchanges with other cities and bring their writers and artists here and send ours there… a girl can dream! Sara Tilley


We need a co-operative space for pooled resources of power tools and saws. This way, visual artists can cut their frames and supports, grassroots theatre kids can make their sets, and no one has to spend the big bucks. People can buy a membership, learn how to use the tools safely, book the machines, and then start making. The tools could be donated, the wood could be bought at a group discount. Add a few comfy couches, and there would be plenty of opportunity for interdisciplinary art chats and potential collaborations. Mireille Eagan


Increase the funding of the Arts Council by a factor of 10. Stop the government from ceaselessly crowing about Newfoundlandand Labrador’s culture and heritage while they insult professional artists by tossing pennies at their feet. Ed Riche


There are too many arts organizations struggling to operate their administrative functions independently. We each don’t need our own photocopier, fax machine, bookkeeper, reception, web support and board room — but that seems to be the only way   funding organizations know how to fund us (and God knows there isn’t enough to go around!) A co-operative space for arts administration supported by public funders which shares common resources would benefit the sector tremendously. Also, being nearby in a physical sense would lead to enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing. Jenn Deon


  1. Delaware · November 28, 2010

    Even if internet forums are becoming a bit archaic, I love the idea of one based on honest commentary. I’ve put up releases on online forums, and it’s annoying when it seems like people listen to your art, comment, but have nothing critical to say about it. I WANT to know what you didn’t like, or thought could be better. A pat of the back feels good, but a well thought out constructive criticism is much, much more appreciated.
    An all ages rock fest would be wicked too, giving younger kids a chance to play with more established artists in a festival like setting would be huge for younger players.

  2. Van Mar · November 28, 2010

    On the subject of a second campus for the arts in a downtown setting: I agree! The former location of Compu College is sitting empty, merge it with the Anna Templeton Centre even.

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