The Phi Centre is a renovated heritage building in Old Montreal, filled with bold new art spaces. Kitted out with the latest sound, lighting and multimedia technology, the centre is designed to bring artists together with each other and their audiences, and to disseminate artistic content.
“When I thought through this building, it was my response to how people pursue culture and produce culture in today’s environment,” said Phi Centre founder Phoebe Greenberg to a group of staff and faculty members from Concordia, including President Alan Shepard, who visited the centre recently. “It’s built with a certain vision, but at the same time I think we need other thinkers to fill it up.”
Concordia’s Director of Special Projects and Cultural Affairs Clarence Epstein encouraged the assembled Concordia community members to consider how they might be able to use the innovative spaces for their own academic and artistic projects, or as a place to launch collaborations with creative people outside of the university. “The idea tonight was to get the ball rolling a little bit with our scholars and our administrators … and start thinking about what could be possible in terms of collaborations between the university and Phi,” he said.
Concordia’s president said he was impressed by the centre’s bold vision after visiting it in the fall with Epstein. “I want to congratulate you on realizing a beautiful building. It’s a fascinating intellectual, artistic and cultural project,” he said. “I hope we will have opportunities to work with the Phi Centre as we move forward.”
Jason Lewis, associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Design and Computation Arts, held an augmented poetry reading at the Phi Centre this past December, titled Sortir de L’Ecran. The space was the perfect size for his event, Lewis said — small enough that it feels intimate but large enough to feel as if there’s something interesting going on. “And the technology is really amazing,” he added.
Lewis said he wouldn’t hesitate to hold an event there again, adding that he loves Phi’s innovative approach to art production and dissemination. “They talk about it not just as a venue, but as a production space. It’s kind of a hybrid setup, where you can come in and work on something, and then present what you had worked on in a really high-quality venue.”
Tammy Lee, the centre’s programming director, took the Concordia delegation on a tour of the facilities, which include a large meeting room, a small exhibition hall, a small theatre that can be used as a sound studio and a small live venue complete with a bar.
“The vision is really: Can a building produce content? And can we explore different ways to disseminate it?” Lee told the group during the tour. “That’s what’s in flux right now. How do we consume culture? How do we consume content? How do we produce it? And how do we view it as audience members?”
Joanna Berzowska, chair of the Department of Design and Computation Arts, says she can see many ways that the Phi Centre could help her to disseminate her own unique work in electronic textiles and reactive garments. “The sort of work that we produce is very difficult to have curated in a conventional gallery,” she said. “What’s great about this centre is that it’s so flexible, and it’s open to really experimental ways of showing research and art.”
Mark Sussman, associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Theatre, is exploring using the Phi Centre as one of the venues for the ninth Encuentro (meeting) of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, a conference and performance festival designed to connect artists, scholars and activists from all over North and South America. Concordia is bringing the festival to Canada for the first time in June 2014.
The flexibility of the Phi Centre’s various spaces makes it a good fit for hosting events and performances during Encuentro, Sussman says. “It’s a very exciting place. We’re thinking of ways in which the Faculty of Fine Arts can propose projects to the centre, as well, aside from the Encuentro, whether’s it’s offering courses, or bringing students there to meet artists.
• Phi Centre
• Faculty of Fine Arts
• Office of the President and Vice-Chancellor