Abbotsford MonasteryAbbotsford Convent is a well-loved arts hub, but not far away, behind the vine-covered walls of what was once the lesser-known Abbotsford Monastery, in Nicholson Street, Abbotsford, another creative community is thriving: 55 artists, including painters, costume designers, writers and filmmakers, along with assorted small children and dogs, share the sprawling red-brick buildings and teeming vegetable garden.
It's happened (almost) overnight, too: until recently, the buildings were used by the Sophia Mundi Steiner School; when the school moved to the convent, Alice Glenn, a filmmaker, and Elizabeth Barnett, an illustrator, offered to lease the old building, offering its quirky spaces (classrooms, locker rooms, playgrounds) for creative types and micro businesses who might otherwise be stuck in the spare room at home.
'Working from home as an artist can be isolating,' says Barnett. 'We wanted to form a studio that could offer artists the privacy to work while being surrounded, and inspired, by other creative people.' The school eventually agreed, as the site was largely vacant, and in February of this year, the artists of what they called Schoolhouse Studios began to move in (including this writer, who has worked in what was a monk's bathroom and then the boys' cloakroom, since March).
As Glenn and Barnett envisaged, artists work in their own rooms then converge in the garden - like the children used to do - to share coffee, lunch and ideas, with the occasional basketball match too. An events room - a former chapel - hosts yoga classes, live music and book launches.
But time is almost up. The site has been sold to a developer, which plans to build 80 dwellings on it. Demolition is scheduled to begin early in the new year; the little community will be cast adrift. But Glenn remains optimistic that they will be able to keep the group together. 'We're looking for an innercity site that we can all move to,' she says.
❊ Address & Contact ❊
⊜ Nicholson Street, Abbotsford | Map
❊ Web Links ❊
→ Abbotsford Monastery
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