A view through the Plexiglass

by Jessica Comella, Gallery Shop Manager | Nov 25, 2020
On July 2 after months of uncertainty, we reopened our doors by appointment. With Plexi-shields in place, hand sanitizer at every possible touchpoint and masks worn by staff upon entering the building, the idea of opening the Gallery to the public again seemed like uncharted territory.
Portrait of MacLaren Art Centre volunteer Jocelyn Hay
Image: Russ Hope

Our first day, we had three appointments and visits were very procedural: sanitize, sign in, view the exhibitions. The Gallery Café still closed, there was no hustle and bustle, no familiar sound of dishes clanging and no friend groups laughing and chatting around the fireplace. The excited babble of children, youth and families making art in our well-loved Rotary Education Centre now seemed a distant and fuzzy memory. The Carnegie Room felt extra big and extra empty without the weddings and large events that ordinarily warm our halls.

As we opened, few cautiously made their way to the Gallery, and for some, this was their first leisure outing to an indoor space in months. As we slowly phased into some kind of status quo and our staff began to trickle back, we were happy to open our doors again in whatever limited capacity that meant. Though the Gallery itself was quiet at the start of reopening, behind the scenes we were pivoting to enter the online realm; gearing up to offer online exhibitions and classes, an online Gallery Shop and online events.

Image: Helen, Nina and Mona

As masks became mandatory and the summer grew hotter, our confidence continued to grow, as did our community’s. When the Gallery Café reopened in early September, we had a happy reunion with our regulars—people like Russ Hope, who frequents the Café every Thursday for lunch, Margaret McClelland, who comes in for coffee nearly every morning and our Friday morning ladies group including Helen, Nina and Mona. We saw our visitorship double, and then triple by October, and soon the MacLaren was buzzing again. There are business lunches in the Massie Family Courtyard, couples celebrating anniversaries under our vibrant Japanese Maple, families stopping in to pick up their Family Sunday art kits and volunteers just dropping by for a visit. Folks come in to view the exhibitions and every day, we welcome new visitors simply interested in seeing what we’re all about.

Image: Brenda and Daniel

Amidst the move to a more socially distant world, we’re confronted with the question of whether we can create community without ‘place’. But as I sit at our front desk, witnessing these moments behind a protective shield of Plexi, it strikes me that our community gathering spaces should be cherished now more than ever. Above all, the MacLaren is a place for people—where curious minds can grow and creativity thrives. A place to strengthen our social ties and support the most vulnerable among us. Though the pandemic, unfortunately, carries on, we will continue to serve our community in this way. We would be nothing without you.

—Jessica Comella