Research + Presentation Centre exteriorTwo of the most common questions we get asked by visitors to 15 East Pender are “what is this place?” and “is this the Helen Pitt Gallery?”. I am always reluctant to impose an interpretation, short-circuiting the process by which an observer arrives at a personal understanding of art. However, that sort of (non-) response is generally seen as unhelpful or downright rude.

Second answer first: this was the Helen Pitt Gallery. We do our best to honour, and also critique, that history. (One of the best starting points for tracing the Helen Pitt-Unit 306-Unit/Pitt-Pitt International history is in this article on, by Allison Collins.) The short answer about the name change is that we felt that the blast of art, music, organizing and publishing that resulted from the fusion of the original Helen Pitt Gallery with the Unit 306 Society back in the early 1980s produced a moment that we’re continually trying to revisit. This was the original appearance of the name “Unit/Pitt”, and at that time the Pitt was ground zero of an explosion of art, organizing, music, and publishing. You can’t go back in time, but moments that seem revolutionary (even — or especially — revolutions that “failed”) in memory do need to be revisited, the aims and results critiqued, and new moments built on their echoes.

As for the first question, “what is this place?”, saying “art gallery” is easy. It’s also not completely accurate. The reason it says “Projects” rather than “Gallery” is to reflect the fact that we’re a base for disseminating art rather than simply a box for presenting it. This doesn’t mean that we’re stopping exhibition programming — I think we have made that clear during the past year — but instead that we are supporting and presenting artistic and curatorial projects that don’t need to be defined by the paradigm of an exhibition-in-a-gallery, but can rely on public action, publishing, electronic (and broadcast, including television) media, social networks, music, performance, reading — and any number of things that artists can use as aesthetic, intellectual, physical, and cultural tools.

While saying “it’s an art gallery” satisfies the immediate question, it doesn’t answer it. The answer is going to change from month to month and sometimes from day to day.

Posted by:Kay Higgins

Executive Director of UNIT/PITT from 2010 to 2018. Artist, writer, publisher.

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