Is There Too Much Room in The Rooms?

Katie Vautour asks, "Why isn't there a line-up outside The Rooms? Why isn't it as bustling as it could, and should be?"

In Havana, Cuba, there’s this place called The Art Factory. It’s an amazing re-purposed space featuring live performances, readings, bands, art exhibits, screenings, dances, and food and drink—all at once.

There’s a two dollar cover charge and a thirty minute line-up to get in on a Wednesday night.

Why isn’t there a line-up outside The Rooms? Why isn’t it as bustling as it could, and should be?

The Rooms has, well, too much room, and not enough art of any kind. It needs more installations, drawings, paintings, music, readings, book launches, performances. It needs more everything.

People go to galleries for art. But most people I know (both artists and art-appreciators), go to The Rooms for opening receptions, on free night, and for a scattered special event. Last time I visited, there was almost an equal number of employees to self-conscious visitors.

Teh Art Factory in Cuba (Credit:
The Art Factory in Cuba (Credit:

Inside is a perfect example of how The Rooms is working (or not). There’s a skinny hall with portraits of famous Newfoundlanders. On the opposite side are rectangles, each the same dimension as its respective portrait. Inside these are facts about the person.

Sure, it’s nifty. But it’s hard to contemplate both at the same time, and people get stranded, floundering in the middle of the room. And those rectangles (literally) outline the emptiness of the walls.

The space, at least in part, needs to be subdivided to make it suitable for a wide variety of frequently rotating exhibits. The floors can be used for performances, or dance. Or theatre skits, or plinths. Statues. Anything.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick (yes, even New Brunswick, who recently decapitated their provincial arts board) has art arranged salon-style, so works cover the walls from floor to ceiling.

What The Rooms is already doing, it’s doing right. The Elbow Rooms residency is a great support of emerging artists. The museum is well designed, with its mock clapboard and diverse array of artifacts. But even that section lacks a tactile experience that could bring the place to life. Why isn’t there a spinning wheel, an old trunk, or a scrap of sealskin that people can touch? The Rooms has piles of that stuff.

Speaking of: it’s nuts, squirreling away all those historical and artistic gems. There’s lots of displays begging to be made with material they already have.

Also, why can’t people bring drinks into the galleries? I’m sure it involves security and insurance reasons, but most places allow people to wander around with hors d’oeuvres—and I’ve yet to see an outraged guest fling a glass of champagne onto art.

As the province’s premier gallery, The Rooms has a responsibility to provide a comprehensive range of art-related experiences and exhibitions. It should support and stimulate more ideas and discussions and careers. Right now, it’s supporting…well, mostly, The Rooms.

Everyone understands that its structure is designed to invoke architectural shock-and-awe. But that still resonates even if the building is filled with stuff other than itself.

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  • The space at the Rooms is one of the important things that it gives us. space, calm, light, without wind or wet and wide open to all. If you want to see the crowds head down on a Thursday Afternoon for the free coffee and culture talks! They are often packed with just the diverse crowd mentioned above by Hannaford. It is true more could fit. But all that room is not wasted space.

  • Worth mentioning: The Rooms had its budget cut by 10% in 2013. This resulted in the loss of 13 full-time employees. Those that remain put a Herculean amount of work into creating the exhibits and events. If Newfoundland wants more, more staff and resources are needed. Call your MHA

  • I’m based in Central Newfoundland but I visit The Rooms whenever I’m in St. John’s. I find the programming and exhibitions there to be excellent and engaging. I have admittedly seen the place nearly empty (during a Thursday afternoon in January, which is understandable), but I’ve also seen it packed (every Wednesday night and on the weekends in the winter, and almost every time I’m there in the summer).

    With the art gallery switching shows every three months, I always find something new to see — from contemporary art to historical art, from salon hangs of Mary Pratt’s work to single painting shows of Riopelle, from sculpture to installation. As for events, I’ve seen dance performances there, improvisational choirs, lectures, cocktail events, and childrens programs that I’ve brought my niece to. And I’m not a regular visitor.

    The comment about food in the gallery is uninformed. I’ve been to galleries around the world, and I have never seen food permitted unless it was a commercial gallery.

    As for the Beaverbrook, I was there five months ago while on a business trip. The salon hang is gone.

    In summary, good journalism results from intelligent research by the writer — and fact-checking by the newspaper. If this is an op-ed it should be labelled as such, because it certainly isn’t a balanced and comprehensive article.

  • I gotta say, I find comparing The Rooms to The Art Factory in Havana boggling. At a glance The Art Factory looks like something akin to The Eastern Edge Gallery, or some reclaimed industrial space in Montreal’s Mile End; ear to the ground and ahead of the beat. Not to mention, about 11x the population in Havana compared to St. John’s. What I mean to say is that, at a glance, I think you are comparing apples and oranges. Further to that I think you’re ignoring the fact that The Rooms surely must have some mandate to represent the province as best it can, not merely a 30ish hipsterific subsect of our wonderful little society. The Rooms is not just for you and your friends. It is also for old people and kids, even conservatives.

    And why on earth would we want people massaging all the artifacts? Filthy little kid mitts picking up stuff and depositing it in random plant pots. Also, I would find it bizarre to be going around the gallery spaces with food and drink. I do have enough faith in people to trust them not to hurl their drinks at the wall, however has it occurred to you that occasionally people tip over? It happens to the best of us, so I say best not to have red wine in hand next to the pretty things. Would you be insulted if you were asked to consume your frappacino before entering the Van Gogh Museum, or The Louvre?

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