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Artists of all ages, abilities, can now create at the Barn Studio

Plus, the challenges of preserving heritage buildings while renovating them to meet today’s safety and accessibility standards

Locals get creative at the new Barn Studio, which is a Burnaby Art Gallery initiative. 📸 Lubna El-Elaimy.

Burnaby artists now have a new, fully accessible space where they can paint, print, draw, and participate in classes.

On Sept. 22, Burnaby Art Gallery inaugurated the new Barn Studio, a 1,200-square-foot (111 sq. m), fully wheelchair-accessible space for artists of all ages and abilities. The heritage building that now houses the studio was once a barn and garage for the original owners of the main art gallery building. Artists, curators, City of Burnaby staff members, volunteers, and Burnaby residents gathered on the lawn before the new studio, enjoying refreshments and snacks. Inside, young artists were busy painting at their easels; attendees from the city who had worked on this project for the past few years embraced and congratulated each other. Their joy was palpable: the project the fruit of their collective efforts, and they were genuinely happy to see it become a reality.

After a land acknowledgement, welcome ceremony, and a short speech thanking all those who worked on the project, Mayor Mike Hurley cut the ribbon and the new studio was officially opened.

The new space comes at a critical time for Burnaby Art Gallery. “Our programming numbers have doubled in the past year, in terms of participants, so this building couldn’t have come at a better time,” Jennifer Cane, curator and general manager of the Burnaby Art Gallery told The Beacon, “the old space was rather small and didn’t have any sink in it so this is really going to go a long way in terms of meeting our needs.”.

The art gallery itself is housed in a building that is 112 years old and the new studio building was once the garage and stables connected to it.

The new Barn Studio space will allow for a variety of fine arts classes to be offered. 📸 Lubna El-Elaimy.

A unique feature of the new studio is that it is fully wheelchair accessible. This is noteworthy as many of the spaces for the Burnaby Art Gallery and Shadbolt Centre for the Arts are housed in heritage buildings not normally accessible to people living with physical disabilities.

“It’s a real challenge with heritage spaces, to work within them and serve all the uses of preservation and letting the public know about Burnaby’s past but also creating accessible spaces that everyone can use. It’s a pretty significant project in that it is fully wheelchair accessible and it suits the needs of the gallery as far as community programs, kids classes, camps and such,” Cane said. Additionally, the new studio is also accessible for staff, since the second floor–where the offices are located–can be accessed by elevator.

In the coming months, Cane hopes the city’s disability auditor will visit the space and provide feedback and suggestions for further improvement.

The Barn Studio on opening day: Sept. 22, 2023. 📸 Lubna El-Elaimy.

The new space is an open studio for a variety of arts for all ages, and will offer workshops on activities like print-making, and painting. Other planned activities include after-school camps, youth groups, as well as demonstrations by community groups like the Burnaby Artists’ Guild. “I love that it’s taking a very under-utilized space, what was a storage space, essentially, and opening it to the public,” Cane added.

Renovating and preserving the heritage building while ensuring that it meets accessibility and fire-safety standards was no small feat. Sam Al Jubori, Senior Project Manager with the civic projects, and project manager on this project, told The Beacon about the enormous effort it took to renovate the barn while preserving it, “this building is from 1910, so it’s about 110 years old. When we took the building as a heritage building, we wanted to protect it under the Heritage Canada Act, so we couldn’t do anything external, but we wanted to make it an accessible building with offices on the second floor, with proper stairs and now it has an elevator.”

To preserve the historic exterior and character of the building while renovating it to meet today’s standards, engineers had to think of creative solutions to the problem. “During the process we engaged structural engineers who identified that this building didn’t have a proper structure, no foundation. We needed to keep the building as it is, so we lifted the building, put down a foundation and we put it back. All the beams inside are new, and all the structural updates that had to be done. But we kept the interior finishes from the original building,” Al Jubori added.

For residents interested in using the new space or joining art classes, it is now possible to book a spot online through the City of Burnaby web registration site, under the Burnaby Art Gallery activities.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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