Culture  Making space for creativity

One of Montreal’s finest private galleries, the DHC Art Foundation impressed the city’s art community in 2007, when it was opened at its Old Montreal location on Ste. Sacrement. It is dedicated to showcasing cutting-edge contemporary art to the public for free, and to promoting knowledge of the arts via its education department. Its founder, Phoebe Greenberg, established herself as one of the city’s foremost patrons of fine art. Now, Greenberg has expanded Montreal’s cultural facilities by creating the PHI Centre, at another location in Old Montreal.

This unique space was created by fusing two buildings into one in order to provide enough space to execute Greenberg’s vision. Both buildings were heritage structures suffering from decay as a result of neglect. In collaboration with her architects, Greenberg ensured that the history of the buildings would be preserved, but that the energy performance of the structures would be brought up to a LEED standard (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design is the architectural world’s designation for exceptionally environmentally-friendly buildings).

Achieving both goals at once occasionally proved to be a challenge. For example, when human remains were found in the basement of the building, the city of Montreal had to be contacted so that a full archeological review could be performed. The city’s team painstakingly combed the sublevels of the structure to remove all of the remains or artifacts that could be salvaged. Then, Greenberg’s team conducted a review of the entire structure to determine which of the building’s internal elements were appropriate for inclusion in the final product.

The result is an elegantly minimal and ardently contemporary space. Occasional nods to the past – the inclusion of crystal chandeliers, for example – remind the visitor of the 19th–century heritage of the buildings, but the overall effect is modern and hi-tech. The building also boasts a rooftop terrace with an impressive view of Old Montreal.

Unlike the DHC, the PHI Centre is neither a not-for-profit nor a public art gallery, although it often takes on the roles of exhibition space or concert hall. The assistant curator of the DHC, Cheryl Sim, also carries out programming duties at the PHI.  She explains the PHI as a polyvalent space at the service of the arts, “four floors of versatile space adaptable to all types of events imaginable: launches, conferences, colloquia, exhibitions, and performances.”

Though open to a wide range of artistic disciplines, the PHI Centre is particularly dedicated to “presenting and producing projects that are at the intersection of music, film, [and] new media,” Sim said. In this vein, the PHI Centre will host a performance by lucky dragons, an L.A. duo that specialize in improvised and participatory musical performances that build a common sense of purpose between audience and performer.

This event, a collaboration of Art Pop, will be lucky dragons’ first performance in Montreal, proving this new space will host innovative artists and shows in the same vein as the DHC. However, there is a distinct role for each space within Montreal. Sim said, “[…] after DHC/ART was founded, Phoebe Greenberg started to be interested in the possibilities for another centre that would be interdisciplinary, and that would involve production as well as presentation. So at some level it seems like an organic thing to have some of our programming at DHC/ART, actually take place at the PHI Centre. Mostly because we are very separate organizations, but we have a founder who has a shared vision.”

The successful DHC has brought innovation and imagination to the forefront of the Montreal arts community. The PHI Centre will be a welcome addition to the reputation of the city as a place for visionaries, artists, and art lovers the world over.

lucky dragons will be showing at the PHI Centre, 407 Saint-Pierre, on Sunday, September 23. The event starts at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.