With the Fringe over, the Mainline Theatre normally goes into a period of hibernation and recovery before its theatre calendar kicks in. However, this summer, executive and artistic director Amy Blackmore decided to up the ante. The Mainline Theatre is opening a ground-level gallery space in September and preparing itself for hosting the World Fringe Congress in 2016.
The new space will function as an art gallery and multipurpose space, as well as a box office for the Mainline. Blackmore explains that the new space has already been touched by the Fringe over the past two years. “It’s a space we use as our HQ for the Fringe, between Coco Rico and Schwartz’s. So, we’ll be well fed.”
Blackmore and general manager Geoff Agombar decided they wanted to allow the Mainline to grow on street level. “The Mainline venue is one of Montreal’s best kept secrets,” she says. “A lot of people walk by and have no idea there’s a theatre upstairs. The ground floor space will help the community find the theatre.” With a perfect location — Ripples across the street from the space and Schwartz’s long lines — the theatre’s increased visibility seems a foregone conclusion.
A second motivation, of course, is revitalizing Rue St. Laurent, as the street has struggled to keep its businesses open in recent years. Blackmore says, “The economic climate of the street allowed for this [space] to happen. One of the main reasons we want to move forward is to help bring the street back.”
“During the Fringe, I sat just outside the space with different staff members. It reminded me how much I love the Plateau and the neighbourhood,” Blackmore says. “There’s such a diverse grouping of people here: artists, students, people who have lived here for 30-40 years.”
The space is essentially a white room with a divider in the back to close off an office space. The front is ideal for vernissages. “People can show work Thursday to Sunday,” says Blackmore. Much like the philosophy behind the Fringe, there won’t be much curation for the gallery. “It’s not the kind of thing where you need to send proposal and fit into my mandate or I necessarily need to like what you’re doing. The art world is hard to break into, but we want the process to be accessible.”
So, just as the mandate of “Diversity, accessibility, and community” guides the theatre productions in the Mainline Theatre, the same mandate will guide the art space. Of course, artists don’t need to show their work alone. Blackmore says that group expositions are encouraged.
Blackmore sees the gallery as an extension of Gallery Fringe, an event that entered its fifth year this past fringe. “We’ve worked with over 250 visual artists,” Blackmore says. With such a diverse group, Blackmore has a pool of potential artists who are likely to take an interest in the space.
Similar to allowing shows to keep all monies made at the door during the Fringe, visual artists are allowed to keep what they earn from selling their work in the space. “We’re unlike a curated gallery in that we’re not keeping a percentage or a commission,” says Blackmore. “We’re not gallery art dealers. We’re artists too.”
Interested artists can sign up to show their work on the Mainline website or send an email to email@example.com. Blackmore adds, “If anyone has an idea, come and talk to me.” The new venue opens September 1. The Mainline Theatre is located at 3997 St. Laurent.