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Taking it to the street 

The North End Street festival aims to bring energy back to Gottingen.

Sonia Edworthy likes tours—earlier this summer, she led teenagers on a “gentrification tour” of Halifax’s north end, for example. That attraction is why she’s back at it coordinating Eyelevel Gallery’s Go North! tour of artists’ studios and galleries this Saturday.

It’s the first of two days of events—Sunday is the North End Street Festival on Gottingen Street—being organized by artists, businesses and community groups ranging from the Uniacke Square Tenants Association to the Halifax North Memorial Public Library, all defying the stereotype that their area is a beleaguered and dangerous place. They’re encouraging Haligonians to literally “go north,” toward the district instead of away.

Go North! is drawing attention to Gottingen Street studios, like the ones above and behind Propeller and Enterprise Car Rentals; galleries such as Viewpoint and Eyelevel’s own space; and on artist-affiliated businesses, like Turnstile Pottery. But the Go North! map also stretches as far north as the Veith Street Gallery.

Edworthy, a Dalhousie University planning studies graduate who co-runs the Anchor Archive Zine Library out of the house she rents on Roberts Street—it’s one of the stops on the tour—has planned out visits to more than 40 alternative art-production spaces, local businesses and non-profit organizations, starting at noon on Saturday. People can either take the pocket-sized map and proceed on their own “self-guided tour,” or join one of three organized excursions, leaving on foot from the Bus Stop Theatre, the hub of the day’s activities. Each destination will sport a handmade pink and orange pennant flag advertising it as an artistic point of interest.

“We decided to make three separate routes, and name them a little like the London Underground,” Edworthy quips. “Old North, Middle North and North North. Each with 12 or 15 destinations.”

Oh, the places you can go: the Deadly Clowns Outdoor Cinema, a white wall painted to be a backyard screening area on Creighton Street near Charles; an apartment building rife with home studios christened A House of Stories, across from the sculpture garden lot on the corner of Creighton and Cogswell; Bloomfield House—also inhabited by artists who used to have punk shows in their basement, says Edworthy; Fuller Farm, home to a collective urban farm workspace, a bike workshop, a silkscreen studio and a darkroom; and graffiti walls on Creighton and Cunard Streets.

“It’s that public/private idea,” she says, referring to the number of artists in the north end with home studios on streets such as Cornwallis, Cunard, Maynard, Creighton and Fuller Terrace—all designated stops. “Just having studios in houses is not a new thing but it’s more and more necessary since places like Bloomfield and Bike Again were closed. And then the Khyber is under threat because of taxes arrears. The city just won’t help.”

The area’s proximity to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University’s campus has attracted artists since at least the 1970s. But it’s an irony of Gottingen Street that the thoroughfare was, before the construction of Scotia Square, a vibrant business district with banks, a grocery store, a liquor store, theatres, black nightclubs—the area depicted in photographs on display this week at the north branch library in conjunction with the festival, and the kind of area that the Gottingen Street Merchants Association, one of the key players in Sunday’s events, wants it to become again.

“We feel like Gottingen didn’t get enough new life this spring,” says association president Michelle Strum, owner of Alter Egos Cafe/ BackPackers Hostel. “People talk every year about the businesses that leave, but it’s not uncommon everywhere. It’s just more obvious here because so much is empty.”

Strum points to the vacant lot left by the Falkland and Gottingen fire three years ago: “That really makes you notice the other 10 or 15 spaces for rent. You can’t get resurgence right on the street.”

Eyelevel and the Ecology Action Centre, newly returned to Halifax’s north end but just off Agricola Street, the two other major partners in planning Sunday’s street festival, came up with the idea of closing Gottingen between Cornwallis and Cunard Streets.

“When something happens like an event, where the magic happens is on the street,” says Eryn Foster, the director of Eyelevel. “I’ve lived in other cities, gone to school in Montreal. When Saint Laurent Boulevard gets closed, it becomes a street where you just get surrounded by the energy of people.”

Francesca Tallone, one of dozens of individuals who have contributed to the weekend’s festivities, is counting on people hitting the streets with their bicycles as part of the Aeolean Ride—an event which originated in Brooklyn, New York by artist Jessica Findley. Fifty volunteers will wear three different styles of white bodysuits—a cross between angel’s wings and parachutes—handmade from ripstop nylon and designed to inflate while riding at low speeds.

“There’s a really good bike culture here, so we asked and she was really, really, really into it,” explains Tallone. “That coincided with the festival as a kind of ‘satellite event,’ but we’re not staying just in the north end.” After traversing the Halifax Common, Point Pleasant Park, the waterfront and Citadel Hill, the Aeolean Ride bicyclists will descend on Gottingen.

Other performances will showcase neighbourhood talent such as spoken word by Word Iz Bond, theatre by Zuppa Circus, dance with Mufaro and Dixon’s Little Women, music with Dusty Keeler and percussion by Kitpu Youth Drummers. There will also be Taoist tai chi demonstrations, bicycle maintenance workshops, children’s craft tables, stilt-walking, food and craft vendors, bicycle drag-racing, community information tables and a sidewalk sale along Gottingen. The final event is a free barbeque and more entertainment organized by the George Dixon Centre, including fireworks at 10pm.

Another map of the north end will be exhibited at Turnstile Pottery on Saturday—this one handmade by children and other patrons of the cooperative.

“A lot of people don’t know where are,” says Foster, pointing out another irony of Halifax’s north end.

Edworthy says that’s also true of artists: “Do artists even know where other artists are? Not really—people don’t know where other people are working. It’s also becoming really hard to rent spaces and there aren’t a lot of collectives. This is really valuable, I think—a kind of window on the area.”

Go North! opens at 10 am at Bloomfield Centre and the Micmac Friendship Centre with workshops for seniors and children and runs until 5 pm on Saturday, September 9. For more information, call Eyelevel Gallery at 425-6412.

The North End Street Festival runs from 2-7pm on Sunday, September 10. Rain Date: Sunday September 17. For more information, contact communityfestival@gmail.com

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