A group of Lethbridge artists have repurposed an old school to make art together.
Jeanne Kollee and Rick Gillis have made the decommissioned McNally school their artistic home for the past two years with a cadre of artists including Ann-Laure Djaballah, Aaron Hagen, Pam Vera , Leila Armstrong, Annie Martin, Kasia Sosnowski, Wende Luco and Robert Bechtel.
Each of them took over a former classroom in the renamed McNally Community Hall, located two kilometres south of Hwy 4 on McNally Road, though Kollee and Gillis share a room, while Bechtel shares the basement with the stained glass guild.
It is a beautiful setting for studio, the old schoolhouse, which was built in 1947, is nestled in the countryside just at the edge of Lethbridge. The floors are beautiful hardwood and the artists have hung their art on the walls of long halls which used to host rows of student’s lockers, which were removed and sold when the school was decommissioned in 1989.
“It’s a full building, we actually have a waiting list to get space here,” said Gillis, who has used the studio to create many of his works for several exhibitions coming up in January including a group exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the University of Lethbridge and his own solo exhibition opening, Jan. 7 at Casa called “the Age of Man.”
“ All of the works are allegorical. Just about all of the pieces were created here or my basement. There are a number of paintings and a lot other projects and I’ve assembled some photographs for it. I’ve been working on a more sentimental series,” Gillis said, adding he is pleased with the new space.
“There’s lot of room in the halls to organize works for exhibitions, so all we have to do is truck it out,” Gillis said.
Kollee is continuing work on her “Unter Dem Messer exhibition which ran June 25-Sept, 2 at Casa.
“I’m going to do six or seven more canvasses for it. I’ve applied for other arts groups too,” Kollee said, adding they
Kollee and Gillis were part of a collective of artists called the Potemkin Collective, which used to work in the basement of the old firehall downtown. When the firehall location became untenable, they moved to a location above Adam’s bookstore. But when the landlord sold the building housing their studio above Adam‘s bookstore and the group disbanded, they had to move again.
“We‘ve been using a lot of different spaces for art, which we used to do all the time with the Potemkin. So we were looking for a space when we moved out of the space above Bob’s bookstore, and this place came available,” Gillis said, adding they discovered the location through the Allied Arts Council. Leila Armstrong and Robert Bechtel were already ensconced there.