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A marriage of creativity and commerce

Art and business work hand in hand to bring life back to downtown Port Arthur through outreach and mutual support.

Art and business at first seem to be mutually exclusive, but the executive and artistic director of Definitely Superior Art Gallery says both can and do benefit each other.

The gallery has been doing community outreach events for years, many of which become major draws for people on both a temporary and permanent basis. 

Two of those, Urban Infill-Art in the Core and The Hunger, are specifically designed to both get artists to fill public spaces with their work and get crowds to come to the area to generate what David Karasiewicz said is a sense of community, injects life into an area and shows people the potential for new creative and retail spaces.

“Really, when we started the Hunger 12 years ago, which coincides with Urban Infill, the downtown was a lot different than it is now,” he said. “Around 45 per cent of what we do is outside of the gallery (on Park Avenue) and one of the things was to bring people back into the downtown because they were lost when the stores and shops left.”

Both The Hunger and Urban Infill have the same purpose, but are held at different times. Urban Infill, held in the spring, is an all-ages event meant to draw people to the downtown north core by connections through accessible empty spaces and existing arts/commercial business and social spaces to set up and display artwork.

The Hunger is for adults only, held in six venues on the last weekend in October, usually restaurants and pubs in the downtown core, where local artists ranging from local bands to performance artists and poets perform and goers are encouraged to dress in their best Halloween costumes. Attendees pay one fee and get a pass good for all venues.

Karasiewicz said it's a major event for local musicians and regularly draws thousands. 

In its history, 15 venues have hosted Hunger events. For both events, some of those venues have changed hands, or were vacant at the time, but helped to attract new tenants.

“What happens is people come to these events, see what the neighbourhood has to offer and we've heard on many occasions people come back and rent out space or buy,” he said. “It draws people back in, they see what kind of a neighbourhood it is and with large crowds and growing retail space. It pushes a lot of the bad elements out eventually and gentrifies the area.”

Once people live and work in the area, he said they want art to brighten it up and add an additional element to living there. 

However, there is a down side. Over time rents and taxes do increase, often pushing people out when they can no longer afford a space. It's a catch-22 artists struggle with and as a gallery they work with local businesses to keep arts thriving as an entity and a source of revenue. 

Arts have been and always will be integral to the downtown, said Jim Commuzzi, president of the Waterfront District Business Improvement Area and owner of Rooster's Bistro.

“I regularly have art in my restaurant and I have space in the works for featured artists to display in my place alone. I know many more businesses who display and help sell artists' works as well,” he said. “It does help bring people to the downtown as an attraction, as well as create a sense of community.”

He said it's inevitable as a business district improves rents and taxes go up and understands that some artists struggle to maintain a space to work and sell their works. In the end, he said it's beneficial and the BIA is there to help groups like DefSup and individual artists find a place.

“When a district is improved it means more taxes and more revenue, and I understand the struggle – my daughter is an artist,” he said. “They can come to us (BIA) if they need help.”

A few spots he said he'd like to see filled are window spaces in the old Eaton's store on Red River Road, which he said would be a prime location for artists to display their work.