By NOAH BECKER, DEBORAH KRIEGER with CHRISTIAN FARIVAR FEB. 2018
Montreal's newest cutting-edge arts organization, Never Apart, has what you'd expect of a brand-new hot spot: a loyal following (30,000 visitors since its opening in June 2015); ample creative space (twelve thousand square feet); a strong exhibition program (over 450 artist collaborations to date); and a dynamic social calendar (over 200 parties, panels, and other events).
As for the unexpected? Try the outdoor pool (measurements not provided), an affiliated online magazine (twenty-plus issues, published monthly), and two permanent installations: the serene Moon Room and the psychedelic Sun Room. And it’s a non-profit to boot.
Dax Dasilva, the founder of Never Apart, is perhaps better known as the CEO of Lightspeed, a point-of-sale service startup he founded in 2005. After twelve-plus years in business, Lightspeed now processes over 15 billion transactions per year for tens of thousands of companies, according to betakit, making Dasilva one of Montreal’s most successful entrepreneurs.
So what made Dasilva decide to delve into Montreal’s art scene? As he puts it, “art has always been part of my life.” Inspired by his painter aunt and graphic designer mother, Dasilva painted and drew as a child and took art history courses in university; revealingly, he says, “it’s actually how I got into technology—through the design side.”
When Dasilva founded Never Apart, he brought the energy and focus of an innovative startup to the drawing board. Montreal’s Mile-Ex neighborhood, already teeming with artists and musicians, was the perfect spot; Dasilva recalls, “I thought this neighborhood could really use a cultural center,” a true hub for all of the creativity and talent just a few steps away. Most importantly, Dasilva says, Never Apart was designed to be “something that was fresh and didn’t carry with it all the constructs of the gallery system.” The emphasis was on “freedom” rather than commercialization or profit, and, luckily, the local art scene responded.
And how. In fewer than three years of operation, Never Apart has hosted a plethora of exhibitions by artists both local and international—painters, sculptors, photographers, and architects as well as artists of the digital, installation, and performance persuasions. Looking through the site’s exhibition archives is dizzying: in just 2017 alone, Never Apart exhibited shows about topics as disparate as the psychology of social media, Montreal’s historical lesbian bar scene, the surveillance state, Jamaican dancehall posters, and capitalism’s pressures on women’s bodies.
Dasilva describes Never Apart’s approach to exhibitions as such: “we curate the shows’ ‘big picture.’” Inviting guest curators from all over the world allows Never Apart to put on uniquely diverse programming; in particular, Dasilva cites the recent show Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance and the Art of Interrupting Narratives, an exploration of the indigenous gender identity known as “two-spirit,” as an example of Never Apart’s “collaborative approach.” And there’s plenty of space for it all: the venue’s twelve thousand square feet include multiple gallery spaces and a small film theater; currently, Dasilva says, Never Apart is showing nine exhibitions comprising twenty different artists.
To Dasilva, the events programming is just as vital to Never Apart as its exhibitions: “they go hand in hand.” Its calendar is packed with musical acts, panel discussions, film screenings, and, of course, pool parties (when the weather allows). Most notably, Never Apart’s Legend Series has featured supermodel and DJ Eve Salvail, known for her buzz cut and dragon tat, leading Vogue to call her the “Original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo”; Lady Miss Kier of the nineties band Deee-Lite; and beloved Canadian photographer Evergon.
Never Apart’s eponymous magazine is vital to its outreach and storytelling. Dasilva remarks: “it all comes together in the magazine”—from the panels to the paintings to the parties. Each themed issue contains commentary, interviews, and photographs related to Never Apart’s programming, allowing those of us who don’t live in Montreal to keep up with Never Apart’s ambitious scope.
After chewing on and digesting that flurry of information, one thing is absolutely clear: in its third year of operation, Never Apart is just getting started, and it’s certainly not slowing down. WM
Never Apart is located at 7049 Rue St-Urbain Montreal, QC H2S 3H4 and is regularly open Saturdays from 12-5pm. Admission is free.
Noah Becker shows his art internationally. A visual artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post and contributed texts to major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker also directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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