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The final photo banner on Loft 112’s Facebook page is of empty chairs. The chairs’ emptiness, their invitation to sit, is a sentiment that flowed through Loft 112’s final days.
If you don’t know, Loft 112 was a literary, creative, community space in Calgary’s East Village that opened in 2013 and closed at the end of October 2022. Loft 112 had a soaring wall of windows, one turquoise wall, one concrete wall, both always covered in rotating, local art. Concrete defined the floors and ceiling and there was a kitchen for hosting events. The furniture, in keeping with the Loft’s commitment to accessibility, was not unwieldy. Both the design and its affordability made the space accessible, which was the intent of Loft 112 from its inception. I wanted very little red tape, low overhead, and easy movement to and within the space. In return, I asked those who used the space to respect it, the items in it, and the community Loft 112 was part of. It was a very successful situation. Loft 112 hosted up to 50 events a month. No chair was without its person.
We had some alterations done to the space. An open bedroom was converted into a self-contained micro-apartment for touring writers and artists to stay for a night—or a month—and the main floor bathtub was removed. In its place, we built a small room to stack chairs in.
A healthy literary/creative/community requires a space for sharing, connecting, and belonging. As a curator of such space, I felt I had both the privilege and responsibility of shaping its soul into something welcoming. I bought chairs for people to sit on, to sink into, to listen to poetry from. I bought chairs that were easy to move side by side for a chat, chairs that could be placed in a circle for inclusion, or in rows to create audience. And before I had a chance to shop for chairs to stack in that room, we had cushions.
Picture the first group ever to use the Loft space: teen writers, seated on that concrete floor, writing journals on their laps, with a grey winter sky outside the windows. But, actually before that, before I owned a space, I purchased a mid-century 7-foot couch with good bones that I hoped (and I was right) would accept the weight of up to six people at once. Hundreds of people have sat on that couch over the years to listen to brand new stories penned by Alberta writers during our Inner City Stories Happy Hour Reading Series. This couch also cradled a few writers during afternoon naps, some startled awake as they failed to lock the door before getting comfortable (rookies).
For a while, we had two couches. There was this incredible red, brocade, Victorian couch—at least 9 feet long. It was flanked by two lamps with crushed velvet shades and rough-to-the touch pottery bases left over after our fundraiser The Mullet event (business in the front, party in the warehouse out back). The pairing of an ornate red Victorian couch bookended by these two groovy lamps was unexpected. Two different decades, not meant to be grouped together, but God damn they worked. This is how the Loft worked. Different decades/styles/crafts lumped together. Beauty from the unexpected. The unexpected revealing the beauty.
If you want to create an inviting space, begin with the details. For me, it was finding fun glassware, coffee cups, appetizer plates and chairs. “Come in, please feel at home.” I derived great joy in finding these pieces. A preschooler who came each literary lunch with his grandma had his own right-sized chair. A mustard high-back lounge chair with walnut details was found in the elevator bay of the building. The Loft 112 space needed this chair, so I took it. Regret swiftly followed. What if someone was moving and was coming back to get it? I left a note up for a week. No one claimed it. Loft 112 did.
One of the many thrills of curating this space was chasing the bargain and finding that perfect item. We were able to pick up unwanted metal folding chairs and an old long, folding cafeteria table. On wheels, this table moved from another closet to Loft 112’s creative space. Around this table, writing workshops were conducted, and meals shared during our annual Poetry Potluck, and our monthly Long Lunch Quick Reads Literary Lunch Series. Writers came for brunch and volunteers for dinner. A group of literary enthusiasts penned poetry, graphic novels and plays around that table every Wednesday for five years. Individual writers rented the whole space and table to finish their novel, their play, their thesis. The chair has transitional meanings. Different interactions happen through the placement of the chair. I am indebted to this long table for bringing strangers together for meals and conversation, and for the spark of new literary work.
Those metal chairs, though budget-friendly, were loud, stiff, and uncomfortable, not being-read-to chairs. We eventually replaced those chairs with spectacular wooden chairs, designed in Canada and made from formed bent plywood. Best, the chairs were stackable and comfortable. Art in a creative space. Canadian in a space celebrating Canadian work. Loft 112 found its stride. The chairs were getting a workout.
Then, that preschooler grew up and went to school. The red couch began to sag in the middle under the constant weight of us. COVID arrived and chairs that couldn’t be cleaned with bleach had to go. Goodbye to the white swivel chairs, the orange chair on wheels, the green secretariat. What remained was that blue couch with walnut arm rests, the beloved yellow wingback, and the stack of wooden beauties—and then, the chairs never made it out of their closet much at all.
A familiar story across the province; a narrative of the lone chair.
Moving chairs out of their closets, it turns out, had a monetary value attached to the act, not simply one of creating community. We couldn’t get enough “bums in seats” while COVID remained. We could, and we did, devise collaborate projects that kept us connected and creating safely in our homes. Projects like the travelling book Missing you Monday, the province-wide Cadavre Exquis, and the brilliant Boxed Stories Gallery, but a chair can only remain empty for so long when your community space is also a business.
I admit, I found returning the chairs to their closet at the end of the night a chore. But at our final People’s Poetry Festival where, to our glee, every damn chair was needed, I waved off any offer of help. One by one I returned each old friend to its place in the stack in the closet. As I did so, I gave a silent thanks for supporting the writers, the readers, the poets, the musicians, the publishers, the booksellers, the neighbours, the friends, the strangers, the volunteers, the laughter and applause. For the chairs did their job and they did it well and we had spectacular fun along the way.
Lisa Murphy Lamb has had the pleasure of serving Calgary’s literary and creative community as Director of Loft 112 for just shy of 10 years. Along the way, she participated in incredible programming that brought Alberta talent to Loft 112. She wrote a novel, Jesus on the Dashboard (Stonehouse Publishing), served on a few boards, made incredible friendships, and learned a hell of a lot about art, writing, patience and heartache. She would like to thank anyone and everyone who supported Loft 112 in their own way over the years.