Written and Photographed by: Gabrielle Tieman

The old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. But in the case of the Niagara Pumphouse, it took a community to build an art center.

The Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre, located in the midst of picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a non-profit organization working to keep the arts and appreciation for it alive in the Niagara Region. Operated by a volunteer board of directors, the Niagara Pumphouse plays host to a variety of art classes, shows, exhibitions and events for the Niagara Region, allowing both residents and tourists a bright and friendly atmosphere for art appreciation and learning.

Built along the banks of the Niagara River in 1891, the Niagara Pumphouse was originally home to the pumps and filter tanks used to supply water to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Following years of lying empty along the river, the Niagara Pumphouse was purchased by the town in 1994 for a single dollar and converted into a visual arts center by a group of enthusiastic community members who wanted to provide the residents of the Niagara Region and tourists visiting the area with an encouraging environment for supporting, learning and enjoying various forms of visual art.

Today the Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre is an active member of the Ontario Association of Art and home to a large number of members, teachers, students and visitors annually.
Cheryl Morris, communications chair for the Niagara Pumphouse Board of Directors, says it was a community with a passion for all forms of art that converted the Niagara Pumphouse from a retired landmark heritage building into a visual art hub for lifetime and budding artists to hone their creativity.

“The community wanted to come together to not only give life to a historic building but provide the region with an art center,” said Morris. “Although the art [on display] is not solely from residents of the Niagara Region, the majority is by artists who are at least local and associated with the Pumphouse.”

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The Niagara Pumphouse is open year round and free to the public and visitors who want to stop by and browse the art and historic building. The building features two large, open exhibit rooms – the Walker Room and Gallery – that are both used for showcasing works by varying artists and pieces produced by the students of the Niagara Pumphouse that can be purchased for very reasonable prices for original artwork. The rooms are also home to classes and events and available for rental by business, educational, yoga and tai-chi class or social events.

But the main attraction to the Niagara Pumphouse is their plethora of art classes. Whether you are new to the arts or an avid enthusiast, there is a painting, sculptures, multimedia or art appreciation class to peak each individual interest.

Operating on a weekly basis at three hours a week, Morris said the classes are all taught by professional artists and teachers from the region and range in class size from six to 15 people with a variety of ages all in one — mainly catering to the large demographic of retired community members.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is largely a retirement community; with its beauty and draw towards the arts, it is an ideal spot for retirement,” said Morris, who originally moved from Toronto to the Niagara Region for similar reasons. “Our classes are fairly popular for retired members of the community, but this has not discouraged others from joining in.”

Adult classes and programs are offered three times a year and vary in topics, subject and materials. Current programs include painting for beginners, palette knife techniques, mixed media painting, learning impressionist’s techniques and so many more classes that touch upon a variety of methods and skill sets.

New this season to the program itinerary is the Niagara Pumphouse’s mentoring program, which allows students to schedule one-on-one time with instructors for work critique, development of personal goals and skills and evaluations for future explorations.

Adult classes start at $135 for members and $175 for non-members with select classes offering drop-in rates which can be paid per visit. The annual memberships are offered to anyone interested in becoming an active member with the Niagara Pumphouse – and definitely worth the money. Memberships offer plenty of perks for added incentives, including heavy discounts on all classes, free access to workshops and annual and seasonal events. Membership fees range from single memberships at $40 dollars, family memberships at $55 dollars and per person lifetime memberships for $500 dollars – a worthwhile investment for local artists.

Memberships run for 12 months from September 1 to August 31 of each year and are non-refundable.

With plenty of events already marked on their calendar, Morris said the Niagara Pumphouse is geared up for an exciting summer. Back for its ninth season, the Art by the Lighthouse outdoor and indoor art show and sale will return this August showcasing professional artists from both the Niagara Region and across the globe, displaying their paintings, sculptures, jewelry, glasswork and more.

“We are looking to have over 30 artists this year both inside and out,” said Morris. “It is a fantastic event and the community really looks forward to it year after year.”
The event will have free admission and proceeds from sales will go to benefit the art programs at the Pumphouse and Ian Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund.

These events, along with fund raising, exhibits and class fees, provide an essential part to keeping the Pumphouse afloat. Working solely on a volunteer basis, Morris, a volunteer herself, said it is the volunteers that form a solid core of support and they are always looking for new recruits to join their team.

For a full list of programs being offered, upcoming events, costs and membership fees, visit the Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre website at http://niagarapumphouse.ca/.

The Pumphouse is open year round from noon – 4:00 p.m. weekdays and 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. on weekends starting in April.