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Thirsty for art 

Pull up a stool: The King and I, an installation at Anna Leonowens, temporarily transforms the space into an artist-run bar.

The wind blows hard. The holidays approach. A few pints on a patio with friends is a distant memory for most. But Stefan Hancherow and Eleanor King have hung onto a thought hatched out in the sun.

"It started in the summer over beer," begins Hancherow, also the gallery technician at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, on the phone. He's referring to the project he and King have co-curated, The King and I, an installation that'll transform Gallery Three at Anna Leonowens Gallery into an operating bar.

Set as a "lived in and loved bar," The King and I will seamlessly blend art into its interior, including work by David Askevold, Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, Ali Nickerson, Kelly Mark, Charley Young, Michael Fernandes and others---all of it related to bar culture, drinking and NSCAD history.

The King and I refers directly to stage and screen productions about the real Anna Leonowens, the gallery's Victorian namesake and NSCAD founder. A late exhibition cancellation led to the space's availability and the opportunity for the two NSCAD graduates---King is also the gallery's exhibition coordinator---to create an identifiable place to hang out and talk about their work.

"There just isn't a standard place anymore," Hancherow points out.

Since NSCAD's Port Campus was created, the community's "kind of split up now," he says, triggering visions of enclaves, diaspora of drinkers. The Split Crow, at the corner of Granville Market and Duke, was the local for the original campus for decades. "It's not as much as it used to be," says Hancherow.

"When I was a student, the Khyber was the place," says King in a separate call.She recalls how The Khyber Club brought NSCAD undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni together with other practicing artists, curators, arts administrators and gallery staff. "There was no hierarchy," she says. "Very quickly my professors became my peers."

At the Khyber, when artist Craig Ferguson tended bar, he'd pour a beverage, then, "He'd just start talking about something he'd read," says King. Work by Ferguson will also help create the bar environment.

The importance of informal talk increases with change, according to King. Earlier this year, when NSCAD faced a rough financial forecast, she observed low morale, a dispirited community. Having an identifiable hangout where the airing of grievances, debating the future and imbibing of drink could've helped, says King. Then, there's the trend away from face-to-face interaction. "So much communication has been happening through social networking."

Leonowens' Gallery Three may hold roughly 50 people maximum, estimates King. The bar will be properly staffed at the door and behind the bar. It's insured through NSCAD's special events licence for the gallery and not meant for round-after-round drinking. "We don't want it to become a mess," says Hancherow.

Proceeds from beer and wine sales will go toward a student scholarship.

"There's going to be a lot of inside jokes and stories that only live on through NSCAD people," says Hancherow.

An arts bar, he continues, is just another version of a gathering place for the like-minded, such as a campus pub or grad house, a sports bar, a favourite stop for after the shift, an after-work spot for the office or a watering hole for journalists, pundits and their gaping pieholes.

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