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Rectory reopens as Chelsea art centre
By Lucy Scholey
Two years ago, the empty St. Stephen's Church Rectory in Chelsea seemed ready for a better place.
Ice cascaded down the main staircase, yellow wallpaper peeled back from the walls, the hardwood flooring buckled up and an old portrait of Jesus hung in a corner where pocked drywall revealed insulation.
It looked like the nearly 120-plus-year-old building on Old Chelsea Road needed more than a few prayers.
But a group of volunteers saw an artsy opportunity in the abandoned rectory that was slated for demolition.
They formed an Arts, Culture and Heritage Co-operative and struck a deal with the owners of the building to rent the space to them at a cost of $1 per year.
Meanwhile, the group would have to redo the entire place themselves at an estimated cost of $270,000.
Starting as if working on a blank canvas, they spent two years stripping the wallpaper, painting, building a fire exit, repairing water damage, redoing the roof and applying for grants. The group raised $185,000 in public funds, donations and sponsorships.
On Nov. 24, the building will officially open as the Chelsea Arts, Culture and Heritage Centre.
"It felt like an endless task, but suddenly, now, it's all come together," said Mailin Boppe, the centre's co-ordinator, while giving the Low Down a tour of the almost finished building.
While passersby were previously cautioned against going inside, an "Open" sign now encourages people to check out the artwork and boutique.
Before the grand opening, the stairway still needed to be sanded and painted.
The 50 volunteers working on the renovations managed to keep some of the building's old charms. Paintings hang on brick walls and the thick trim around the door frames is clearly not new. The hardwood floors finally relaxed from water damage-induced buckling. Then, of course, there are the old service stairs and interesting nooks and crannies.
The crumbling walls in the upstairs turret offer a glimpse of the building prior to renovation. It's not yet finished, but there's no rush. The stairs leading up to the space are too narrow and do not meet the code for public use, so it will be used as a storage space.
Eight artists are renting out rooms as studio space - with an additional room reserved as a public printing press - giving the second floor a university dorm-like feel. The point is to foster arts and crafts of emerging and established artists.
"We wanted to share the space with as many people as we could," said Boppe.
The current St. Stephen's Church Rectory was built in the early 1890s, just after the original 40-year-old building was demolished. It has been the home for many priests and housekeepers over the years. According to the Chelsea Arts, Culture and Heritage Centre website, the backyard barn housed horses which priests rode to travel around the parish.
Check out the works of 20 artists at the grand opening, scheduled for 5-9 p.m. The doors of the eight studios will also be open.
An Afro Cuban jazz duo, Miguel De Armas and Kelly Craig will play music early in the evening and DJ YUG (Hugo Sabourin) will take over with funk, jazz and lounge music.
Anyone can join the arts cooperative, which currently has 135 members. It costs $60 to be a support member or $50 for an artist member. An additional, fluctuating annual fee also applies.
For more information, visit www.culturechelsea.ca.