A Building worth writing about: Montreal’s new PHI Centre for the Arts

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Pheobe Greenberg, founder of the DHC/ART foundation for contemporary art, backs another remarkable project: Old Montreal’s smart building for art, the PHI-Centre. The four-floored, redefined historical building opens its doors as an interactive and collaborating centre for the arts. With the technology and capacity to house a variety of events from film screenings, to music concerts, to artist talks, the space presents itself as helping to “make Montreal a global hub for arts and creativity”.

The opening show “AMENTIA: A Moment of Insanity” delivers in many aspects of the PHI Centre’s vision: evolving, open-ended and interactive. Artist Jean-Francois Mayrand’s project centers around each viewer’s reactions and interactions with a madman (portrayed by actor Gaetan Nadeau). Unfolding in a three-screen walled room, each individual is invited to enter a “dialogue of gestures” that progresses in response to the viewer’s movements. The experience is then mapped into an ink-blot like print and offered for purchase.

While the aura around the secluded darkened room added hype to the experience, the building itself is truly worth writing about. The space is striking, the art is commendable and the potential is grand. With the most advanced technology and entirely versatile space, the PHI Center truly holds the potential to develop as Montreal’s artistic hub.

And pulling at our principled, progressive heartstrings, the PHI Centre further promotes environmental awareness. The center is aiming for a gold standing of LEED certification, an international grading system for the design and construction of green, sustainable and energy efficient buildings.

With a new and innovative business model, the PHI Centre has been undergoing what was termed an “incubation” period of trial and development. This offers locals a wonderful chance at engaging with the development of the space. Chris Clark, the community manager for the Phi Center, noted that rather than offering up the space for independent rentals, the center would ideally like to incorporate themselves in the process of planning events. Such collaboration provides the center with the chance to develop as the core of Montreal’s artistic community.

Most curiously, I am eager to see what crowd the center will entice. Without a formal press conference, the center portrayed their community-oriented, conversational and accessible intention by presenting the opening night of AMENTIA to a local line-up of bloggers. The space held an easy-going and laugh-filled evening that I unofficially consider my initiation into a group of interested and engaging people, which I further imagine is what the PHI Center intends for its future.

But with their upcoming incubation period, the space will slowly delineate through its events and visitors. Being an emphatic dreamer, I am still hung up on the idea of Montreal’s unfulfilled potential, and look to the PHI Center with naive and enthusiastic eyes. Ideally, I would love to see the center truly develop into an artistic hub. But my idealistic, rather than realistic, perspective prevents predicting what type of frequenters would determine such a space. The young and offbeat; the mature and established?

Luckily, I have not been presented the task of determining the PHI Centre’s business plan and subsequent demographic. But in contributing what will be the beginning of a long and diverse discourse centering around the space, I feel my words play a part.

And so I present, with the meager power invested in my words, an indeterminate and diverse space to be filled by those attracted to the promise of art as an open-ended community. I present the PHI Centre as that promise and the reader, consequently, as its answer. Check it out. Tell me what you think.

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