Last summer a group of Amherst artisans approached the town with an idea about bringing new life to the former Via train station.
The town worked with Via Rail on a lease arrangement so the artisans could test the waters to determine if people would support a gallery in the community and whether using the historic train station as a gallery would be a viable operation.
While the project was supposed to run until October, it was extended to December and all reports are that it was a successful pilot project. Over nearly five months, more than 3,000 people visited the gallery that operated on Tuesdays to Saturdays. The visitors were mostly from Amherst, but there were some from other parts of Canada with the overwhelming reaction being one of support and excitement at the talent of artists and artisans at the local level.
In the first year, the gallery featured 57 artisans from the Amherst area, with another 20 to 30 on a waiting list. There were painters, photographers, fibre artists, sculptors, carvers and more. They all played a part in helping the gallery grown and they all want to be part of its future.
Now, it would appear, the ball is back in the court of the town and the rail company. The artisans want to make the train station the gallery’s permanent home. They have big plans to expand the operation to include a Saturday’s farmer’s market and they hope the gallery could become another important community meeting place on a year-round basis – not just during the summer or fall months.
Amherst has indicated that it doesn’t want to be a landlord, but we can hope it will work with Via Rail to find a long-term solution that will allow the gallery to remain. The last thing anyone wants to see is the building becoming an eyesore or another vacant part of the downtown streetscape.
The artisans are more than willing to pay their own way, but they need the support of the town in maintaining the gallery and we feel they should have that support.
Amherst and its downtown business community have done a magnificent job breathing new life into the downtown core. While the train station is off to the side and not located on Victoria Street, where much of the renewed spirit has been exhibited in recent years, it should still be treated as a key part of the area’s future because it’s another attraction to draw people to the downtown and another way to celebrate our past, our future and what’s becoming an increasingly vibrant arts community.