Latitude 53: More than just an art gallery

Becca Willson

Latitude 53 open gallery space. Oct 16, photo by Becca Willson

Latitude 53 is an art gallery space located in downtown Edmonton that features local art, from paintings to performances to print publications and everything in between. 

Upon walking into the building, you will see the interior is made up of several open areas which have featured sculpture work, wall-hanging art pieces, performance art exhibitions and really all manner of creative displays. 

 

Chelsey Campbell’s laser-etched Japanese tissue art. Oct 16, photo by Becca Willson


Just last month, the gallery’s annual fundraising event Schmoozy was held, which included talks with writers and artists and other performances as well an art sale in which prices were set in collaboration with the artists to support Latitude 53’s mission to pay artists fairly. 

The sale only happens during the Schmoozy fundraiser, which has been a yearly event to look forward to since 1998, and otherwise, Latitude 53’s primary function is not selling art. It is more focused on showcasing artwork and allowing artists to have control of what they do with their work after the public has had a chance to see it in a gallery. 

That is part of what makes Latitude 53 so special – they ensure that local artists of all kinds are supported and feel empowered to showcase their creations. This focus is why the gallery prefers to sell artists’ work collaboratively rather than auction it off to the highest bidder. Auctions can be a more hostile and competitive environment and that doesn’t foster a sense of appreciation for each individual piece, something that Latitude 53 highly values. 

The history

Latitude 53 has been in operation since 1973. It was founded by a collective of Edmonton artists who wanted a dedicated space for artists to gather and share their work freely under the guiding values of inclusivity, responsiveness, connectivity, transparency and boldness. 

The gallery became a registered society in 1978. This means that Latitude 53 is its own legal entity, a corporation that is in a way a ‘person’ with legal rights separate from the members that technically own the organization. Because of this, the gallery is able to operate as it pleases, which means they can run as a non-profit and ensure that any artists that work with them are in control of their artwork and what happens to it, namely the price for which it is sold. 

Latitude 53 open gallery space. Oct 16, photo by Becca Willson

As a registered society, the members of Latitude 53’s board cannot be held responsible for any debt that the business accumulates, which is another bonus. All of this works to enable the overall mission to fully support the artists and their work in whatever way best benefits them. 

Latitude 53 has also been influential in guiding and helping to form many additional artistic endeavours and organizations within Edmonton. These include the Society of Northern Alberta Print-Artists (SNAP) and the Alberta Art Foundation, which is now a part of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. This dedication to upholding other artistic organizations further proves Latitude 53’s mission to support artists at all costs. Clearly, Latitude 53 has always been much more than simply an art gallery for the arts community in Edmonton and beyond.

A safe space for artists

Today, Latitude 53 is widely known as an influential centre for contemporary art in Northern Alberta, and artists that work with the gallery have influenced audiences that reach far past our provincial borders.

Recently, the Glass Bookshop opened up a retail shop in the gallery’s garage area, an open space with room for tons of shelving and books to fill almost every corner.

Glass Bookshop. Oct 16, photo by Becca Willson

Glass Bookshop is a locally owned business focusing on showcasing local authors, as well as works by a variety of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) authors.

This dedication to local and unique perspectives in their offerings makes the Glass Bookshop a perfect match for Latitude 53 – supporting artists and ensuring that a fair and honest selection is available to those who come in to browse. 

The Glass Bookshop will be in the gallery’s physical space until Dec. 24. 

Latitude 53’s future

Michelle Schultz, Executive Director at Latitude 53, is excited about the endless possibilities on the horizon for a collaborative organization like the gallery. 

The society is considering moving physical space in 2022 when their lease is up, and having had quite a few homes in its history, Latitude 53 is no stranger to acquainting itself with different niche neighbourhoods within Edmonton. 

“We’re also developing a number of online additional projects with other non-profit arts institutions in the city, including the Mitchell Art Gallery at MacEwan, SNAP, and (the) Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre, and we’ve been working on a number of projects since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Schultz. 

Alyson Davies paintings on the wall. Oct 16, photo by Becca Willson

“One is Art From Here and we’re further developing that, as well as an online sort of virtual artist database, called Alcove, which we’ll be working on for the next couple of years.” 

These online database projects and resources are ideal in our current and post-COVID world, of course, and they prove Latitude 53’s dedication to ensuring artists feel supported and ready to express themselves in new projects, no matter the environment. 

“We’re able to really sort of adapt to the needs of the art community,” says Schultz. “I mean, our mission is to empower artists who are engaged in contemporary culture, so whatever that means for us at any particular time is what we do.”

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