Artistic Voices

The Creation of the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning


The Power of Community

Under the leadership of John K. Tett, Director of Recreation, the City of Kingston purchased the deindustrialized Morton Brewery and Distillery complex in 1971 with the hope of transforming it into a community hub for the arts. The site was named the J.K. Tett Complex, in recognition of Tett’s vision, and functioned as an informal arts cluster until the mid-2000s.

“The Tett was a very different place than what it is now. It was a helter-skelter place in many ways. But it was a lovely place to come, because of the people there and the ability to share and see what others were doing and to observe the creativity going on around me as I worked.” - Marcia Shannon, the Kingston Potters’ Guild

In 2005, the City of Kingston considered selling the J.K. Tett Complex, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. Despite its physical condition, the Complex remained an active community centre. Fearful that they would lose their beloved Tett, members of the tenant organizations and local arts community rallied together in defence of the arts centre, with the goal of preserving its heritage and ensuring that it remained an accessible public arts space for the people of Kingston. These dedicated representatives voiced their support for the continuation of the J.K. Tett Complex at City Council meetings, at public forums, and through media coverage. Although many of these representatives did not have political experience, nor a history of working together, their successful collaboration and collective activism had a significant impact on the Tett’s future.

The City of Kingston contracted Artscape Inc., a Toronto-based consulting firm, to prepare a feasibility report on the J.K. Tett Complex’s potential. The 2006 report recommended that Kingston transform the site into a “creative arts campus,” in collaboration with Queen’s University and its plans to construct a world-class performing arts centre, as a viable and sustainable solution.

“Developing creative talent within a community has become a critical strategy for incubating entrepreneurship, building competitiveness and nurturing social cohesion and civic expression. ‘Creative capital’ – the combined assets of society that enable and stimulate its people to be creative – has become the primary resource for cities looking to build prosperity and resiliency.” - Artscape Inc., 2006

Convinced of the Tett’s value to the community, the City of Kingston agreed to sell a portion of the complex to Queen’s University, keeping the main Tett building with plans to completely renovate and revitalize it and establishing a non-profit charitable organization to manage the heritage site: the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning. This new arts-hub – the first of its kind in Kingston – would continue to offer affordable space to non-profit arts groups, while also facilitating synergies between the tenant organizations and local communities and delivering accessible arts programming to the public.

A Labour of Love: The Tett Centre’s Restoration

Once the Tett community and the City of Kingston secured the future of the building in 2008, plans for the design and construction of the new arts centre began to take shape. In consultation with the City of Kingston, heritage professionals, and the tenant arts organizations, the architectural firm created a design that ensured the functionality of the space, honoured the site’s industrial history, and reflected the creative spirit of the Tett community. The tenant organizations found temporary spaces off-site to continue their programming and the construction process began in 2010.

“The City of Kingston allowed us – the artists and the organizations – to be directly involved in almost all the decision-making processes. That was really incredible.” - Patty Petkovich, the Kingston Potters’ Guild

This restoration was not without its challenges. Renovating a building constructed in the mid-1800s presented many structural and logistical issues. Although it had been updated sporadically over the years, the Tett was in dire need of major repairs, such as replacing the wiring and stabilizing the foundation, to meet current building codes.

The architectural and construction teams did not want the Tett to lose its sense of history and place. Contemporary aesthetic finishes were chosen to complement the neighbouring Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and the beauty of Lake Ontario, but great efforts were made to preserve and highlight the building’s historic limestone walls and the original windows. A design for a restored malting tower was also added to reflect the building’s industrial past and to replicate the original tower that was removed in the 1920s.

“There is a Japanese tradition called Kintsugi where broken pottery is fixed with silver or gold. That is what Kingston has done to this building: they have fixed it, but in a way that makes it more precious and beautiful.” - Rosemary Doyle, Theatre Kingston

The Start of Something New

After years of advocating, planning, fundraising, and construction, the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning officially opened in January 2015. Many of the original tenant organizations returned to the building and were joined by additional arts groups who were eager to take part in the exciting new venture.

Today, the Tett Centre is home to eight tenant arts organizations, eight resident artist studios, and a variety of public, multipurpose spaces. Managed as an independent non-profit charitable organization, the Tett Centre runs and facilitates accessible arts programming and events for all ages and skill-levels, in collaboration with the tenant arts organizations and external community arts groups. The Tett is a place for the Kingston community to gather, to learn, and to experience the benefits of art together.

“The Tett is a space where anyone can come and learn something. It is a place where people can come together to create.” - Danielle Folkerts, Tett Centre Marketing and Programming Coordinator

The Tett has since inspired similar projects in other communities across Canada. It serves as a model for the ways the arts can benefit a community and specifically, how they can foster creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

“Now there is a lot of interaction between the organizations. You walk by and see people working in the studios. You just have to tap on the window to say hello.” - Les Moss, the Kingston Lapidary and Mineral Club

The Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning was built by the community for the community and its story is just beginning. Join us and help shape the next stage of its journey.

“The Tett is a hub of possibilities: a place for people to come together, to express themselves, and to get joy from witnessing others express themselves through art.” - Nadine Baker, Tett Centre Facility Manager

“There are programs here that provide stimulation, education, and a different view of the world. The Tett is for everyone in the community.” - Barbara Linds, Theatre Kingston


© Bronwyn Jaques, 2019

This research is part of Artistic Voices: An Oral History Community Heritage Project at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, a project completed during an internship supported by the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, the City of Kingston, Queen’s University, and Mitacs Canada. Special thanks to all participants who graciously shared their stories and expertise with us.



Transcriptions of soundbites (for accessibility purposes):


“In about – let me see, it was during the time of amalgamation, so that was around 2000, I think, it could have been a little bit earlier, Mayor Rosen decided that, first of all the City had huge expenditures and had to do something. Taxes were going up and because we have such a low tax base here, something had to go. So they did what is called a review of services and hired a consultant. One of the recommendations from this character was to close and sell off all City-owned buildings, because they were costing too much money, and that included the Tett Centre. To say there was a bit of push-back is a total understatement. And I’ll never forget, one of the statements in that report was that the City already has programs to meet the needs of the non-profit sector. And our question was how would he know what our needs were when he never asked us? None of us were consulted, right across the city as far as I remember. And certainly at that time, none of us could figure out if any of us, no matter what it was that we did, had been consulted. So there was a meeting in Portsmouth, I think it was in 2004 in the end of January, early February, and to say it was an unpleasant meeting for City Councillors and the consultant is probably a total understatement. I don’t think City Council had a clue of the commitment that people had to whatever it was they did and to the organizations that they belonged. I don’t think that was there. And it was just one group after the other stood up and lambasted them, they were just shredded. And that was the end of the review of services. I don’t recall every hearing very much else after that. But it was abundantly clear that something had to happen, because the City didn’t even have the money to have a janitor in here. The place was filthy, the roof leaked, no heat - something had to happen. The place was totally and utterly unsustainable in the situation it was in. Something had to happen, but then again, we were all terrified that we were all going to be just kicked out, shut down. That was an alternative. What are we going to do, they’re going to stick us out on the sidewalk and what are a bunch of weaver and spinners going to do with our spinning wheels and our looms. We have a loom that’s 100-inches wide, like what the heck are we going to do with that? So people were terrified that was going to happen, so we had to tread a very careful little road of not complaining too much. If we did, there was the alternative. And none of us, certainly not within my group, had any experience dealing with anything political at all, like zero. We knew nothing. We didn’t know how to approach anything, we just didn’t know. I was a relatively new member at that point, but I was one of the few people who had any experience, because of my scientific background, getting up on my two flat feet and talking to two hundred people, whom I didn’t know! So that gave me an edge, oh this isn’t all that hard, because it really wasn’t if you could just get up and put a logical story together. So I guess it was just in that limbo time, between when the review of services meeting happened at Portsmouth and the spring, and I know it was Mayor Rosen, and we had a Director of Culture at that time, Ann Pappert, and Ed Smith, who was a councillor at that time, they went to down to some seminar that Artscape was giving in Toronto, and they came back totally fired up, absolutely fired up: ‘This is what we have to do with our buildings and we should get Artscape in here and this is what we should do, turn them into cultural centres of one sort or another.’ I’ve forgot the term that they used, and they had bought it hook, line, and sinker, thank God. So everyone got fired up about this, this is a really good idea. Artscape actually showed up here and they gave various sessions at City Hall and you know, people really got on board with this idea. But then again, we had no money, the City had no money, and I always kind of felt, you know, this is going to happen, the money will be found. It might not be found today, it might not be found tomorrow, but over time it will. But we should keep on going, because the idea will simply get better.”

– Dorothy Young, member of the Kingston Handloom Weavers and Spinners & former chair of the Tenants’ Association


“At the Guild, we often talked about having a cultural centre where cross-pollination could take place. Not only among our own group and most of us who worked with clay, but with other artists who were focused on using other mediums. After several years at the studio, there was no money of course, none of us were able to embark on anything that would amount to much as individuals – and so it was a very important place. Despite the fact that the environment [had challenges], well for instance, it was very hard to have a spraying booth in that environment in the old Tett, because of the fumes. We made do, and we were resourceful, but it was nothing as nice as what is now in place. So as we were dreaming about these things, we began to hear that Queen’s had its eye on the property and that they had been promised a gift from their benefactor to build a centre here. This was an interesting proposition on the one hand; on the other hand, it had not entered our head that Queen’s would be the owner of [the cultural centre that we had dreamed of] and that it would be owned by an institution, which we could not really have a say in. We wanted something that was ours. When this [decision] came out, some of us were very defensive about the Tett and wanting to keep it our own. In fact, there was another building on the property that we looked at and thought we could perhaps re-assemble [it] and it was larger than the Tett, and perhaps use it as part of the complex. We had meetings and we began to think that we needed people beyond the arts groups themselves, because it needed to be a larger effort and it needed to go through the city, and to do that we needed voices behind us, who cared about what we did, who were not directly involved with what we did, but knew the importance of the arts. And at the same time, Margaret Hughes, who was a big part of this – there were the three of us [from the Potters], Patty Petkovich, Margaret Hughes, and I, who had got together and come up with this idea of a cultural centre. I’m sure other people must have had the idea too, but this was the nucleus of our group. The three of us, Margaret, Patty and I, decided that we should really have a Friends of the Tett Centre. I was very familiar with Friends organizations from my work with public libraries, so I took a leading role, actually, in so far as developing the friends, and my husband was its first chairperson. We did develop the Friends with the idea of keeping the Tett as a cultural centre under the auspices of the City. At the same time, we worked with the Arts Council to ensure that it had a voice as far as the Tett was concerned with the City and we worked very closely, going to these meetings, and letting our voices be heard, at the meetings that the City called on our behalf. And in the end, [the City] decided to keep the Tett.”

- Marcia Shannon, the Kingston Potters’ Guild


“And then around 2004 there were rumours about the Isabel [Bader Centre for the Performing Arts] happening. No one knew what it was [at that point], they just knew – of course it wasn’t called the Isabel then – but that [Queen’s wanted] a chunk of land. I think [Queen’s University] actually wanted the whole site. We were fearful that the whole site would be sold to Queen’s University. So there was a lot of chatter going on and at that point we were sort of in our individual silos. In fact, groups didn’t even know who was in the building, like who actually occupied this building. So, we thought at that point it was time to organize. We formed the Tenants’ Association and Dorothy Young, from the Weavers and Spinners, became the Chair of the Tenants’ Association. We would meet once a month and discuss what should be done. Now Dorothy was meeting on a regular basis with the City of Kingston and she was quite confident that nothing was going to happen to the Tett Centre, but in our group, the Potters’ Guild group, we had an individual [who] had just joined and she was quite an activist. She said, you know, in the [United] States, we would organize and be very vocal and get the community involved just to ensure that nothing would happen to this building. She helped form what was called the Friends of the Tett. We had between 250 and 300 individuals belonging to that organization. I think they played a huge part in retaining this building and not having it sold to Queen’s University, I really do. Although if you talk to individuals from the Tenants’ Association, they thought that it would happen anyway. But you know, I really do think that the Friends of the Tett played a huge part. We would go to Council Meetings as a large group and show that there are a number of people supporting this idea of retaining the Tett Centre within the community and not having it sold.”

– Patty Petkovich, member of the Kingston Potters’ Guild & former member of Tenants’ Association, the Friends of the Tett, and Tett Centre Board of Directors


“Very few of the organizations had a history of working together. There had been kind of a little tenants’ organization, from the Kingston School of Dance, and the [Kingston] Lapidary [and Mineral] Club, and the [Kingston Handloom] Weavers and Spinners, and the [Kingston] Potters [Guild], but all of them functioned independently. So it was creating an organization at the same time that we were being consulted by the City and being very involved in what the space was going to look like, and creating budgets. We had a wonderful person from the City who was hired, Bill Penner, to work through all of the stuff with us, plus all of the people from facilities and the legal support and the construction people in the City. Brian McCurdy was the Cultural Services Director at that point and he was incredible. So you know, we kind of built [the Tett] from scratch. It was pretty much from scratch. Not only building the inside, but also the governance, what it was going to look like and we had wonderful support from an organization in Toronto called Artscape and that was really critical, because they were involved in it in a different way. And we actually went to visit a whole bunch of places, different arts hub models in Toronto. I wasn’t involved in any of the kind of lead up, saving the building and that kind of stuff, but from the moment the moment Theatre Kingston was accepted as one of the tenants, I was like super, super involved. Like it really took over my life. Well it was exciting. We were creating [something], and just thinking what the building was going to look like and having conversations about how the sum would be greater than the parts, that we would not just be individual silos, doing work behind our doors; the whole focus was that there would be these synergies. I’m not involved now, so I’m not sure whether or not there are synergies being created as a result of working together on the kids’ camp or that kind of thing. But one of the major principles was that we were going to collaborate, you know, mixing up the art forms. The reason that we said up this governance model the way we did was because none of these organizations, as I said, had a history of working together. We spent a lot of time building trust amongst the people around the table because it was all a new experience for everybody. And that’s why we made a conscious decision that each organization would have a member on the Board [of Directors] and then we also believed that it was important to have people on the board that represented the community at large, so we developed a process where we put out a call in a variety of ways for community board members and we interviewed community board members and then they joined the board. And we set up committees and all those things that you do when you’re setting up a new organization. And then as individual organizations we were all trying to figure out what our spaces were going to look like. For the Potters, where their kilns were going to go and what the venting [would look like], you know, all that stuff. And the City was fantastic. The City was fantastic. Rob Crothers, who managed the project for the construction part for the City was unbelievable to work with. Everybody really believed in it. Anyway, and then it opened and it’s great! And my job was done. I mean the City was just great, it took longer than we thought it would take and there were lots of issues just around the building. And then we had to determine who was going to get what space and beyond the walls of the existing building, what that was going to look like, the lobby. It was a lot of work! When I think about it, it was really a lot of work. And of course, all of the organizations were dealing with their own organizations’ [work], so it was a lot of work for the people who were representing the organizations on our board. But it was satisfying.”

So now when you come into the space, what do you feel?

“Shivers. No, I think… we made this.”

– Barbara Linds, Theatre Kingston & former Chair of the Tett Centre Board of Directors


“And the Tett itself – and you know this is when it really started to emerge when I got involved – there was a lot of anxiety around the project because it was something new, in terms of a municipality getting involved in this kind of sector development work. Not a lot of communities have expended the kind of resource that was required for the building itself, and then working with the community to basically establish a new non-profit. There really wasn’t a road map for this kind of work. There were a number of junctures at which people would have happily kind of said, ‘you know what, I don’t think this is going to work,’ but there was enough passion and commitment to persevere. It was also really key that back in 2005, the City had engaged Artscape out of Toronto. Artscape is its own not-for-profit, committed to developing artist-live work spaces and larger cultural clusters [and] they had the expertise that the City really relied on and they were the ones that helped facilitate the early feasibility study, to determine if it would work, consult with the community, and build the momentum. It was their original feasibility study that eventually evolved into a business plan in 2009 that convinced Council that this was a viable initiative and a risk worth taking. And of course, all of that had been built on the fact that the Tett had, since the 1970s, functioned as an informal arts cluster. The building was in terrible shape: it was derelict and there was no investment in it. So when the City was approached by Queen’s University about the purchase of the property that the Tett was part of, the old Morton Brewery, [because] originally the City was going to sell the whole site to Queen’s University, the whole community around the Tett who had been invested there since the 1970s, advocated very strongly that the City retain part of the property. So that evolved into this agreement between the City and Queen’s that the property would be severed, the City would retain the footprint of the Tett building itself, and would pass the remaining part of the property to Queen’s to then develop what it now the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. So, in that way, it was very much a community initiative that they wanted to see the continuity of what had been established in the Tett in the 1970s.”

– Colin Wiginton, Cultural Services Director for the City of Kingston & member of the Tett Centre Board of Directors



“So after many, many, many, many meetings for five years, we decided to make it an arts and culture place. We didn’t have one in Kingston – there’s one in Ottawa I think, one in Toronto, one in Montreal, but we didn’t have one here – so anyway, the we started deciding how are we going to do this, where do you want to be, and everybody kind of juggled around until everybody got a fit where they thought they would work. How many square feet, how do you want the walls put up, right down to the wall plugs, where do you want them put in, right down to the final details. So that took five years from day one to decide this, and then once that was decided, they moved us out to the little stone house in Portsmouth Park. We were there for five years while they gutted everything and then built up what we wanted. Five years [since moving out], they moved us back in. We’ve been here 3-4 years now. From what we had to what we have now, it’s like day and night. This is amazing. We had a group come down from Ottawa, that belongs to the Ottawa Lapidary club, and they go ‘My God, what you have, that’s amazing! I’m moving to Kingston!’ So we’re pretty proud of it. And our membership, because of the open glass here, people see [in]. Before it was just a wall and nobody, you know, you don’t see it and we were kind of the best kept secret in Kingston, and now our membership has just blossomed. I think there are lots of people out there who would like to get involved in pottery, or weaving and spinning, get in here with the rocks – ‘oh, that’s so interesting’. We are here and until this building opened up as it is, people just didn’t know we were here. So once they find it, they get interested, and it just keeps going. Our membership has probably doubled or maybe tripled since we came in here. There are [now] activities – before, we would have an open shop on a Tuesday night or a Wednesday night and maybe a couple of people would come in. Some nights [now], Eileen will come in here and when I go to pick her up, there will be half a dozen people in here. And then we started doing the silversmithing and that’s just another whole world that just blossomed and just kept growing. It just keeps growing.”

– Les Moss, treasurer of the Kingston Lapidary and Mineral Club


“So the City had tenants [in the Tett] and it wasn’t fixed. Artist groups were interested in coming back here, but there were some variabilities as to what could fit, what various groups could afford. But we started off knowing a list of groups and what they needed in terms of rough square footage, number of rooms, facilities, and we just sort of drew those, sketched those into squares on the three floors. We weren’t absolutely sure we were going to be able to get the ground floor habitable, but that became a space we were trying to occupy. So it was a lot of back and forth, we were going to each of the artist group’s current spaces, and then later, each artist group’s temporary space, to get a sense of how they operated and how to make all these things work out. So anyway, through this back and forth we sort of narrowed it down to what the City wanted and what worked for the tenants. The closer [the City] got to knowing who exactly was going to be here, [the closer] we got to finding a space for everybody. I think, in my mind, the biggest statement, the biggest meaning behind the Tett is that the City values its artists and its artist community. That was kind of important, from the very beginning, to why we were doing this. I can’t speak for the City or for City Council, but that was the sense. It was clearly represented in [the transformation] from the derelict space that they provided the artists before – and not that that’s representative of their previous attitude, but that’s sort of where the artists had ended up – to the City saying, it’s time to step up, not only to save this heritage building, but to give a really fabulous space to non-profit arts groups as a way to recognize their value to the community. I think it’s fairly unique. We did a bit of touring around, my company and the City and City Council, we went to Toronto to visit some slightly similar spaces there, as research, to see what other people were doing with places. It was clear that the City staff were putting effort into that, thinking what could be done with it. I think we did a better model, although they’re all great initiatives in other cities, but this one is really good! … The physical obstacles? You know, it’s a 150-year old building and the engineering practices from over 100 years ago, you can’t compare them to today. You can see it in old construction: things were over engineered in the sense that they weren’t engineered at all, they just thought, you know, this is a big building, we need big walls, we need a big, thick structure. However, they didn’t have a lot of science behind seismic response or fire safety, although it’s all stone and steel so fires weren’t so much an issue. So to take an old building that has stood through whatever minor seismic tremors Kingston has experienced in that time - because Kingston is in fact in a seismic zone, it’s not just California or Vancouver, but gets quite a bit of activity compared with other places in Canada - the engineers have to design it to current standards. So if you walk around, you can see strips of masonry in the sides of the walls that look new, the darker limestone. That’s because we were taking out limestone and putting steel rods in from beams underneath to hold the roof up, 3-4 metres down into the wall to hold the roof down in the case of an earthquake. And underneath the Malting Tower, if you walk down to the café, there’s big thick, 2-3 inch-thick steel rods that go down into the ground and those go down upwards of 12 metres into the bedrock. And again, this is to hold the tower down in the case of an earthquake. So anyway, when putting all those things together, not all of those things became apparent in the initial design. We knew we had to do those things, but it was after demolition and as things were being torn apart, that the extent to which we had to do those things became clear. For instance, drilling for the anchors underneath the Malting Tower, we found out the bedrock was not nearly so solid or in the location that we had surmised it to be. So there was a lot of re-jigging, reconfiguring, extra work to make sure it was done right. Under the tower, it became clear as we dug, it looked like maybe boats used to be able to approach right up to the doors that go to the café [from the water]. Not large boats, but it looked like maybe there was a channel dug in the dirt so that you could row your boat up to the door. So there were simply places where there wasn’t bed rock, where we needed it to be. So we had to do a lot of extra work down there. It was a big project for our design team and in terms of cost. You’re half way through the project and then these things arise, I mean, you couldn’t say well we can’t do that now. But like I said, [the City] showed a great commitment to work through the obstacles. And maybe they weren’t surprised, they’ve done a lot of work to old limestone buildings and stuff comes up. But yes, the age of the building and the conditions of the masonry were a huge factor … I think that it would be cool, if I was to do a guided tour, I would tell people to take the time to look closely at the walls, because a lot of history is written in the walls. And that was a big part of the heritage committee applications and applications for proposals and awards, that was something that we emphasized, that we didn’t patch the walls in the sense that we were trying to make it look like it was 1850, because it wasn’t. The building has been through several uses and they’re all visible in the walls. Everything from the old floor joist pockets from when it was a 4-storey distillery, and places where windows have been infilled, or opened up, and the brick patchwork that we did, which is this newer looking brick. We weren’t trying to make it look like it was the old [building]. This is the new [building]. You know, the dingey old art centre was also a stage of the Tett and if you walk through the outside and the inside of the Tett you can see a lot of that. You can see that this building isn’t just one thing, it’s been a lot of things. I think people can appreciate that if they look for it.”

So there are all these layers, right? Layers of use, layers of meaning, layers of time.

“Yeah, the scars and enhancements of its many phases and cycles. And maybe there will be more, you know? Maybe there will be different uses, or someone needs a bigger or smaller window.”

Because this won’t be the final iteration of this space.

“We hope not. The City did a lot to make sure that this building would last a lot longer, so it can last another 150 years. Who knows what could happen?”

– TJ Kerr, Colbourne & Kembel Architects Inc.


But in terms of the severity and the phase of the work and the consideration about the future of the building that I was most deeply involved with, there was the issue of, essentially design issues. Through my research, I came to learn about the [original malting] tower and it seemed that we would never want to attempt to reconstruct the tower, and that tower had changed over time in a number of ways anyway, but that tower element was powerful enough, both historically and architecturally, that it was worth considering reinstating it in some form. From a historical point of view, essentially it reminded the community of the history of the building as a malting [house] as it is a key element of a malting house. So that had, to me, strength as a concept. And then architecturally, it did provide a powerful counterpoint to the work that was going on at Queen’s which was so interesting from a contemporary architectural perspective, while still including elements from the Stella Buck [building] which was my main responsibility there. And that was right through the whole process. So I recognize that there were inherent concerns in trying to do that because obviously you were changing what had then become the existing building, which was a simple long building, but I thought there was an opportunity there. That [idea] got taken up by the architects and the City was interested in it, but as you are probably aware, a very key aspect of the way heritage projects work in the city, is that the City works with the advice of the municipal heritage committee, so projects such as this and of course, many private projects, are brought before the committee for consideration and opinion and advice, comments. And it became a real object of discussion – not the only one by any means in regards to the building, but a central controversial point. I spoke to it on numerous occasions and I think of myself as a conservative in my field, in that my primary goal is always the preservation of the heritage character of the building. That is the key purpose and root of my work. But I felt that [the malting tower] had real merit and spoke to that [the heritage character]. The other thing and this was a concern to me as well, was how to make the building handicap accessible and how that would work, how the entrance could work: initially trying to work with the original gable, which was very limited, and then [thinking about] the changes that we would have had to make to allow for accessibility, and then the beginning of the idea that we could have a contemporary treatment or something that didn’t vie with the historic building, but could exist complimentary to it and handle a lot of those [accessibility] functions. So that was an evolution and obviously another area of great discussion and it went through a number of iterations to get to what we have, which I think is excellent. But it was a process, quite a process. But a good one. That’s the very positive side of the discussions, the naysayers and the soothsayers and the people who are willing to consider it but have concerns. Hopefully at the end of the day you have a better result because all of these concerns have been taken into account. I think it’s important that [the Tett] is understood as both a complex industrial site, so that visitors can get that sense of context and then appreciate the way it’s evolved to today, to what they’re seeing today. And then also the military hospital, and the legacy of the First World War, especially now that it is in the public conscience and consciousness, remembering that period and that much of the building that they are looking at from the outside is from that period. Being able to see it with the eyes that I see it – not that my eyes are the be all and end all, but simply to see it in its historical context…”

Seeing it with a historical view.

“Yes, I think it just adds so much to the appreciation of it. Seeing what it was and now what it is. It’s a great story. I look at a building’s evolution as kind of a narrative. And in this case, this is by no means the ending, but in this moment of time, it has a happy ending. It will continue to evolve and we’ll see where it goes. It’s a good [story] in that sense.”

– André Scheinman, Heritage Preservation Consultant for the Tett Centre restoration project




“So now I’m here, back in the building, and the strange part about it is that many of the most important events of my life have taken place in this building - but until you said you were doing this project about this building, I didn’t associate them with this building. So yes: I’ve fallen in love for the first time here, I fell in love with art for the first time here, fell in love with dance and music for the first time here, and now, I am hopefully going into my grand, taking-over Theatre Kingston and fulfilling some sort of destiny – I don’t know, is there a master plan? Did this building say ‘Okay, let’s see what Rosemary looks like when she’s old?’ I don’t know! But the spirit of this building has obviously been shaping my life in some way and here I am now and I hope to do it proud.”

– Rosemary Doyle, Director of Theatre Kingston




What does the Tett Centre represent to you?

“Within the context of the City of Kingston, it represents a model for what concerted community effort can achieve. It really has been quite an achievement. It happens to be an arts centre, but equally well it could have been a sports venue or community clubs all together, but the fact that it’s an arts and culture centre, and even a bit of a tourist attraction these days as well, I find it really inspiring and it makes me proud to be a Kingstonian, that we were able to achieve this as a community and that we are able to sustain it as a community. The future is only bright. It’s a feel good situation that we have been that considerate of the arts, that we have made this a priority – and kudos to City Council for that, that they had the vision, and bought into others peoples’ visions as well, and that staff supported it, and obviously benefactors and community activists who really pushed it. It is amazing how many ways there are to be involved, but fundamentally it all comes back to being part of a community. Since time immemorial, art has been part of community, right? Eating and art – and you can come do both at the Tett Centre! It will be a never ending objective to make arts and culture as available to people as possible.”

So the Tett’s story isn’t over yet.

“Just starting, yes.”

– Dave Kerr, Chair of the Tett Centre Board of Directors & member with the Kingston Lapidary and Mineral Club


“I think the thing that’s pretty fascinating is to see how hard they worked to get to this place, which is really phenomenal to me. And since being here, it’s also neat to see that because of where we were and where we are now, how many other organizations all around Canada are also trying to do similar models. They’re reaching out to us as an example, you know, how do you create this kind of space and this type of community. We’re still very young and I feel like the Tett has so many more years of growing and developing. The potential for this place is just scratching the surface. Seeing the whole journey and how they got here, it’s pretty amazing and I think people worked really hard and the volunteers really did incredible work.”

– Danielle Folkerts, Tett Centre Marketing and Programming Coordinator & practicing visual artist and arts instructor


“Like I said, now they’re discovering different things about the impact the arts can have on your life, like children, who don’t even know – some of the children we get in the regular program, the Kids’ Creativity Club – they don’t even know what they like yet, right, but if you put them in a situation, where you show them that it is something that a) they can be a professional at it, but b) that they can use it just to express themselves – it’s so healthy. It’s just like people don’t question at all putting your kid in soccer, to let them try out different things – and I’m talking about this as a mom now – I hope that it’s getting there, that people value [art] just as much as ‘oh let’s put them in soccer, because that’s what everyone is doing in the neighbourhood,’ that there is also this element of ‘oh they should also be exposed to the arts as a means to express themselves.’ I mean the Tett Centre is just a hub of possibilities for people to come together and express themselves, but also, even for those patrons of the arts, to get joy witnessing other people expressing themselves through art, right? You know, people watch the Olympics, but they’re never going to be a professional athlete. But they can appreciate it, they can cheer for it, and they can support it financially [and] ethically. I hope it is that way for the arts [too] to the core, that the more we support this building, culture, the cultural department, cultural services with the City of Kingston - and we are fortunate in that the City values it generally - but I hope it goes deeper, that it [becomes] one of the first five things people talk about to do in Kingston. Instead of just saying, oh well there’s Fort Henry, and there’s the prison, and there’s Queen’s, and there’s… You know, and then someone says ‘you should also look at the art scene at the Tett Centre.’ I’m so passionate [about the Tett] because I’ve been involved so long, but my hope is that the Tett Centre represents and is a beacon for the community to appreciate the arts and what an appreciation for the creative arts can actually do for the community, for children, for families, for the elderly, to find a place to put your anxieties or spare time. We’re such a huge retiree community, you know, try something new? We can see the trend happening, that they are looking at the [arts] also.”

- Nadine Baker, Tett Facility Manager