The Story of VASA

VASA was a long-time goal of Patricia Wagensveld. Her and husband Harry operated a company called The Studio Gallery in St. Albert for many years. It combined studio spaces for rent with a small display space for monthly art shows. They rented a space in Grandin Mall just down from Al Anderson’s Alaura Art supply shop. There was sufficient interest from artists that they expanded from the Mall to 19 Perron St. and operated both locations for a number of years. In 2005 they decided to transition The Studio Gallery into a not-for-profit organization to take advantage of the many willing hands of artists and to qualify for public funding as a not-for-profit art institution. Pat was the President, Harry the Vice President and Carol Donaldson was the first Treasurer.

VASA began active operations in 2009 in the Grandin Mall location of Pat’s first shared studio space and in the “flagship” location at 19 Perron St. Grandin Mall had room for eight artists with another seven in Perron St. The Mall location used the front window and a long feature wall for displays, while the Perron St location had store front windows and a central display area for small art shows. The Mall location was very handy being only a few steps from the Alaura Arts supply store, although people traffic was pretty slim unless there was a flu clinic in the mall.

Still, Pat’s dream was to have all of the VASA artists under one roof, but possible locations in St Albert were limited. It seemed the best location was the old RCMP building across from Grandin Mall at 25 Sir Winston Churchill Ave. (the Hemingway building was named after local architect Peter Hemingway). The old RCMP building had stood empty for several years and was in sorry shape, being largely un-rentable. The City spent money to remove moldy wallboard, give the main office area a coat of paint, and to get the heating working properly. The main office area accommodated the Senior Winter Olympics, the Winter Special Olympics and the 55+ Games from 2009 – 2012. Also in September 2009, after several years of campaigning by Pat and Harry Wagensveld for the repurposing of the building into an artist run center, the city offered VASA a lease on two unused areas in the building. These spaces were at the front east and back west corners of the building. Pat took the large space in the back and asked if anyone was interested in taking the remaining space near the front door. At this time, Susan Rogers, a member of the VASA board of directors, was interested in getting a studio space but was not prepared to commit to leasing the remaining space, so Carol Johnson stepped forward and leased the space, and accommodated Susan for about 6 months in what was an office in the area.

This was considered to be a very promising sign as there were no other prospective tenants for the building after the 55+ Games. Most of City Council and the Cultural Services department were generally in favour of this plan.

In the interim Pat and Carol Johnson moved their studios into the Hemingway building in 2010. Both artists were quite isolated from the other VASA members as both were behind locked doors that discouraged walk-in traffic. However, Pat figured that this was a good thing as VASA had its toes in the building, and it that it would pay off in the long run. A year later Heather Howard rented a small storage space in the building for paintings and supplies.

As the lease for the 55+ Games was drawing to a close Pat and Harry and the rest of the VASA Board spent considerable time in crafting a plan to take to City Council, with the assistance and support of then Councilor Carol Watamaniuk and the people in Cultural Services, to be allowed to rent the building. Key features of the lobbying plan were that the City had yet to have any other expressions of interest to rent the building, that VASA was already partly located there, and that VASA was a viable long-term tenant that would add value to the building and the downtown area.

Finally, VASA was able to rent 2/3 of the Hemingway Building in May 2012 with a 5-year lease. The VASA artists who moved into the building were: Pat Wagensveld, Carol Johnson, Dianne Way, Bruce Allen, Miles Constable, Frank van Veen, Monk, Al Anderson, Karin-Ann Bosma, Heather Howard, Julie Kaldenhoven, Rick Rogers, Connie Osgood, Kristine McGuinty, Cheryl Moskaluk, Victoria Armstrong, and Carla Beerens. The space was completed by a kitchen and storage area, an office, a broom closet and a storage room.

The first show that VASA hosted in the building that year, and opening month for Art Walk, was quickly put together from Pat’s studio. She had an amazing array of large sunflowers and abstract works. the second show was an all members show as VASA did not have a roster of shows for the space. It was an auspicious show as VASA has gone on to host monthly art shows ever since.

Unfortunately, Pat Wagensveld was diagnosed with cancer shortly before moving into the Hemingway Building. She passed away in Dec 2013, but not before seeing her dream come to fruition. The Board asked Carol Watamaniuk, who had retired from City politics, but who has always been a huge supporter of the Arts, if she would be interested in taking on the VASA Presidency. She agreed and became President in Dec 2013.

Under Carol’s direction VASA has expanded, brought in more artists, has applied for Charitable status, has hired a full time Executive Director and has plans for the cell-block area of the building to diversify the types of art that can be created in the Hemingway Building. The VASA Board has created a Strategic Vision for VASA to 2023 after renewal of the lease.

Provided by Miles Constable

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