A boffo year for the Anna and Art Bar
December 19, 2016

A full house at Art Bar +Projects for the Totally Wicked Music Festival in September. Below, a woman gets up to dance.

It’s nice to be appreciated.The best new thing to happen in the visual arts scene in 2016, according to The Coast, is the opening of Art Bar +Projects.

Operated as an extension of programming at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, it’s allowed director Melanie Colosimo to deliver on the mandate of the gallery in new and exciting ways. It’s also encouraged members of the public, who might be intimidated to enter a gallery, to participate in the art conversation happening at NSCAD in a relaxed setting. In its inaugural year, more than 130 events, everything from Dada Soirees, to PowerPoint Karaoke and Dimensional Poetry nights, were held at Art Bar +Projects, attracting more than 5,000 people.

It’s not just The Coast that’s taken heed. Folks at the National Gallery of Canada have asked about it and want to be a part of it. A CBC Arts story said it was turning “Halifax upside down.” And even Toronto-centric Canadian Art caught wind of it, calling it an “example of intrepid NSCAD thinking.”

Melanie, recently invited as the keynote speaker for the Saltbox: Contemporary Arts Festival in Corner Brook, Nfld., to talk about Art Bar, says the visual art scene in Halifax will only get livelier. There’s a confluence of activities happening in 2017, including NSCAD’s 130th anniversary, Canada’s 150th, and the Halifax Explosion’s Centenary. In other words, plenty of reasons to gather people together to make, talk about and experience art.

“NSCAD’s 130th isn’t about looking back,” says Melanie. “I think it’s about how else we can surprise you. It’s about welcoming collaborative enterprises, visiting artists and alumni. It’s about opening up the school to a wider audience.”

Since 1968, the focus of the Anna Leonowens Gallery—or simply “the Anna” —has always been on NSCAD undergrad and grad students, providing them with exhibition experience in solo and group shows before they graduate. In 2016, more than 115 exhibitions took place at the Anna’s three galleries and the Port Campus’s Loggia Gallery, attracting 18,000 visitors.

Lots of mingling happening at Pecha Kucha 21: Research Showcase held on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Art Bar +Projects.

Serving students is still the primary mandate of the Anna, and that’s not changing. But it’s also much more.

Here are some things to look forward to in 2017 courtesy the Anna Leonowens Gallery and Art Bar +Projects:

•    The rejuvenated NSCAD Public Lecture series continues with a talk by maverick artist-jeweller Otto Künzli. Since the gallery has taken over the facilitation of the series, interest has been so great, that it’s been moved to Halifax Central Library to accommodate larger audiences. Based in Munich, the Swiss-trained artist will speak on February 9. Also expected to speak as part of the NSCAD Public Lecture series are the artist duo of Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler, the first artists to graduate as a collaborative team when they earned their MFA degrees from NSCAD in 1992. They will represent Switzerland at the 2017 Venice Biennial.

•    Far and Wide, a visiting artist series, kicks off in January with James Hoff from New York. Other artists confirmed for the series are: Brendan Fernandes, a Canadian artist of Kenyan and Indian descent, from Northwestern University, Illinois; Liz Ingram, from University of Alberta, Edmonton; Zachari Logan from Saskatchewan; Mario Doucette, an Acadian artist from Moncton, NB; Mindy Van Miller, textile artist from Saskatchewan; Gül Ilgaz, photographer, video and installation artist from Turkey; and Abdi Osman, Somali-Canadian multidisciplinary artist from Toronto.

•    NSCAD is participating in LandMarks 2017, a series of collaborative multidisciplinary art projects inspired by nature. The LandMarks exhibition will include work by Kim Morgan and Steve Higgins’ winter 2017 sculpture class.

•    The popular Research Hangouts series, in which NSCAD faculty talk about the research they’re engaged in, and Sabbatical Talks, about what they did while on sabbatical, return to Art Bar +Projects.

•    With the theme Connection to Place, the Anna Leonowens Gallery will be one of the participants for the 2017 ICOMOS conference, taking place May 24-27, 2017.

•    Halifax is the setting for the inaugural RESPONSIVE: Light and Art Projects, Halifax/Cologne, taking place Oct. 18-21, 2017. Curated by Melanie Colosimo and Peter Dykhuis from Halifax and Dr. Bettina Pelz from Cologne, RESPONSIVE will feature works by international artists who use light as their artistic medium.

•    Casting a spotlight on one of NSCAD’s academic departments, artworks by faculty in Painting and Drawing will be featured at the Anna Leonowens Gallery for a two-week exhibition. (In September 2016, Textiles/Fashion faculty work was featured in Common Threads.)

“To me, one of the best moments from the past year was during the Duke & Battersby talk,” says Melanie. “The bar was open and full and the audience was completely engaged. A group of women came in from the courtyard curious about what was going on. ‘What is this place?’ ‘What’s going on?’ They ended up pulling up some chairs at the archway, sat down and had a great time.”

“I think that’s what we can do. The Anna and the Art Bar are for students, absolutely, but beyond that, it’s for all of us. It’s for our artists to meet and network and feel comfortable. And it’s for the public to come in and find out what we’re all about.”

Real grass was brought in for Cassie Thornton's yoga sessions at Art Bar +Projects.