The SAW Centre offers artistic programming for all

Emmanuel Sayer

Accessibility and diversity are of utmost importance to the artist-run SAW Centre which is evidenced in the artistic programming offered within its art gallery, SAW Gallery, and its revamped music venue, Club SAW. Club SAW was officially reopened in July 2019 showing off its state-of-the-art sound system, overhauled courtyard, fully accessible stage and all-gender washrooms. November 2021 saw the launch of Nordic Lab, a “research and production space for artists from circumpolar nations” that will “forge collaborations and promote exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the North and the South along with partners in Scandinavia and other circumpolar nations” according to their webpage. Nordic Lab provides a space for artists-in-residence but is also a home to SAW’s educational programs, which will be geared in particular toward Indigenous youth.

Within these three different spaces, the SAW Centre is host to movie screenings, art exhibits, musical performances, artist workshops, DJ nights and more. With the summer almost here, there are more and more events on the horizon.

An upcoming event that embodies the spirit of accessibility and diversity espoused by SAW Centre is Pique. “Pique is a new forward-thinking, artist-driven quarterly event series featuring eclectic musical, visual and multimedia artists,” boasts the event’s website.

The summer edition features performances by 12 artists as well as the Ottawa premiere presentation of Odaabaanag, composed by Melody McKiver and Beverley McKiver. Performances will take place throughout the Arts Court building.

The winter and spring editions of the series were presented in a hybrid model which made the event accessible both in person and online. Rachel Weldon, the Executive Director of Debaser, the promoter of the event, mentions some of the challenges related to producing events in this fashion. “For arts presenters, it is a challenge to present hybrid events that don’t feel as if one side, more likely the virtual side, is an afterthought. Video and livestream production takes a lot of resources and planning to make it look and sound good, and the ticket for these events tends to be valued less than an in-person entertainment experience, so it is harder to make ends meet.”

Weldon, who is also the Programmer/Administrator for SAW Centre, thinks that online events, despite being “more accessible and feasible to gather artists or audience members regardless of where they are logging on from, and innovative” won’t be replacing in-person events any time soon. She believes that “we will see producers and organizers integrating new features into what they do moving forward, such as gamification and/or audience Q&As or engagement.”

The early portion of the event will involve programming, workshops, demonstrations, and a vendor market at the Arts Court open house party, which are some of the experiences that cannot truly be recreated in an online presentation.

Pique is happening June 11 from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Club SAW. It is free in the daytime (2-5 p.m.) and entry for the evening portion (5-10 p.m.) is on a pay-what-you-can basis. Some of the performances may be livestreamed. Head to for more information.

Launched in early May, the SAW Prize for New Works multi-disciplinary art exhibition will be on display at SAW Gallery until July 16. Seeing the damaging effects of the pandemic on the artistic community in Ottawa, the artist-run SAW Centre created the SAW Prize for New Works to commission new works from regional artists. Its website announces that in total, SAW has contributed more than $100,000 in financial, production and exhibition support to 30 artists, musicians, writers and performers from Ottawa-Gatineau and the surrounding First Nations. Shahla Bahrami, Atticus Campbell Gordon, Craig Commanda, Kenneth Emig, Marisa Gallemit, Claudia Gutierrez, Rachel Kalpana James, Don Kwan, Sam Loewen, Troy Lovegates, Feza Lugoma, Mélanie Myers, Michèle Provost, Katherine Takpannie, Guillermo Trejo, and Andi Vicente are all recipients of the prize and have some of their work on display in the exhibition which was curated by Jason St-Laurent.

SAW Centre will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023.