How I Became a Hoser

It was December 5, 2012 when I responded to an email on the Brockton list serve calling for volunteers to help create a natural ice rink in McCormick Park.  My email history shows that I replied within 2 minutes and after about a week an enthusiastic team had come together.  There was a exactly zero ice making experience among us but we were all now Hosers and determined to make ice happen.

That winter was riddled by freeze-thaw cycles and despite the odds we managed to make an outdoor ice rink in McCormick Park.  It took about a month.  It was a mighty and collective effort of neighbours, self organizing around a crazy dream and pushing blindly to achieve it.   To me the experience felt like a small act of rebellious defiance to be making ice in a winter that saw so much snow come and go.

Our method was simple – we waited until there was a lot of snow on the ground, we formed crude barriers and then we sprayed the snow with a fine mist, hour after hour.  So many hours.  Progress over that month was painfully slow and just when it felt like hope was slipping, the snow started becoming crunchy and holding our weight, then pools of ice started to form, then the pools joined up and then gradually the water found the low points and smoothed itself into a beautiful shimmering ice rink.   Once we got past the initial phase, the transformation from hour to hour was simply amazing and under the midnight moon it was glorious to take it all in.

We worked steadily to build new ice, repair holes and try to stay a step ahead of the volatile weather.  In early January we organized a festive and sunny opening day community skate.  It was exactly as we had all envisioned.  Then, the next day it melted.   Forever.  It was tragic and heartbreaking and by the time the cold came back a week later we just didn’t have the will to start all over again.  Still, despite the loss I walked away deeply satisfied, having met so many great people.  Connecting in this way, building something so basic but so fulfilling, together, really made me feel like my roots had taken hold in the neighbourhood.

5 steps to build a backyard ice rink:

1. Buy a large white tarp, a bunch of 2 x 8s to build a border and some hardware to connect the wood.

2. Build a large box, level the yard as much as possible and then tuck the tarp into the box to make a pool

3. Wait for cold.

4. When it’s minus 5, filled the lowest point with 2 inches of water and let freeze

5. Once frozen, spray fine layers regularly until it is 3-4 inches thick all over.

Skating has always been part of my life.  It was in fact a big draw in moving to the neighbourhood 7 years ago, knowing I’d be able to walk to the hockey rink.  I suppose I’ve always been a Hoser at heart too as I grew up watching with anticipation as the bay in my home town froze each winter and would spend long hours playing on the ice and venturing out a little further than I should have to find the perfect ice.  Now grown up, every fall I anticipate the opening of the city’s outdoor rinks and this year, inspired by my experience two years prior, I was particularly excited to try and build my inaugural backyard rink for our girls (now 4 and 2).  Since we moved here I’d always dreamed of when I would reclaim the backyard in the winter for family skating lessons, shinny games and ice dancing shows.  It’s become a nice after dinner ritual to head to the backyard for a skate with my girls.  I’m grateful every time we sneak out and I hope they’ll remember it as much as I will.

After the devastation of watching our hard work in McCormick Park melt away, I think all the original McCormick Park Hosers needed a year to recover.  Then on January 7th, of this year I received an email with the subject line: “McCormick Park Hosers – Anyone want to make some ice?”

YES!

The Hosers were back.  First we started with a bit of planning because we were determined not to let the great melt happen again.  All the research pointed back to a good white tarp so thanks to some hardworking neighbours who raised money for the park through a bake sale (big tarps are expensive) and some hardworking neighbours who drove across the city to get the tarp and then drag all 200 lbs of it to the park, we got started.

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A couple of weeks after that initial email we were finally hosing.  It’s amazing how similar but different the experience has felt this time.  With the original rink we were totally clueless and it was an act of pure faith that all our efforts would result in something.  This time around the Hosers are a grizzled group of veterans with a quiet confidence that each drop of water is leading somewhere.  Our tactics in the early going were a bit different too as the magnificent tarp allowed us to water much more aggressively and build ice at a phenomenal rate.  I think the cold helped a lot with that too.  There’s been a lot of cold this year.  A lot of snow and shoveling parties too.  Our scheduling has also been different this time around.  With restricted access to the water source we have only until 9 pm when the community centre shuts down meaning one more task for Hosers and families of Hosers to juggle after work and school, during dinner and during putting-kids-to-bed time.

Part of me misses the solitary midnight hosing shifts when I could imagine I was a thousand miles away from civilization and making my own private rink under the stars.  Another part of me doesn’t miss it because it could get pretty cold and lonely.

Whereas the first go around felt like a covert operation we pulled off in the middle of the night, this time around our hosing has been a very public effort and there’s been something really nice about that too.  Mingling with families using the park, people passing through and dog owners hanging out – the dogs themselves always look at us like we’re kind of crazy to be watering the ground – has given us purpose with countless shouts of encouragement and more than a few occasions when onlookers jumped in and became fully trained Hosers.  There’s something very zen-like when you catch the light and the spray at the right angle and can see the water meandering over the the frozen landscape to fill the imperfections.  I’ve watched a few people hosing for the first time, a little nervous at first feeling like they might mess it up and then within minutes getting in the zone, letting the water do the work and making tiny adjustments in pursuit of perfect ice.

When the official opening day skate came on Saturday February 7th, exactly one month after the initial email, it was once again the day we had all hoped for.  I watched with pride as my daughters made their way around the huge ice rink while countless neighbours weaved around them, each lost in their own moment.  It was a beautiful feeling to be part of it all and as we chatted with friends and neighbours, sipped on hot chocolates – courtesy of the local cafe which is another wonderful addition to the park – I once again reflected on how deep my roots were getting in this little neighbourhood.

With a little bit of weather good fortune, we’re hoping to keep the rink going to the end of February.  You’ll see us Hosers there most weeknights between 8-9, scraping the ice and giving it a fresh coat .  Please come join us, we always need more help (bring your shovel when it has snowed!).. or bring some hot chocolate on the really cold nights.

Most of all, please skate on the ice.

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The McCormick Park Reno

Karen Falkenberg lives across the street from McCormick Park and looks out onto the playground every day.  Perhaps this is why she’s been such a leader in getting things happening at the park.   With the proceeds of the most recent bake sale she organized she has raised a lot of money for programming such as the Eco Art in the Park.  She along with a few other key members of Friends of McCormick Park were involved in the redesign of the playground this past summer.   I wanted to find out more about this experience.


■ – How long have you lived in Brockton?

Karen Falkenberg – I moved to Brockton Village 4 ½ years ago.

■ – When and how did you get involved with the redesign of McCormick park?

KF – I heard about Friends of McCormick Park Early in 2013, and that a master plan had been drafted for the park. I learned that $150,000 from section 37 had been earmarked for the playground and a re-design was going to happen in 2014.

Because the playground, and park as a whole, is such an integral part of the community, a place where the neighborhood connects and spends countless hours, the re-design needs to reflect the voice of the community. I felt it was critical to gather as much information as I could from regular park users about specific elements in the playground – present and possible.

In this process, I did my best to represent and give voice to the park community.

■ – Who did you work with to get the park redesigned?

KF –I worked together with Brockton neighbours Lisa Martin, and Barbara Wodnicka to draft an information gathering survey. I was in contact with GameTime regarding the current play structure, overall plan view and possible re-configuration and replacement options. I worked with Lisa Martin to compile and present our document to Harrington McAvan Landscape Architects.Ana Bailao and her assistant Nicholas Gallant are an active part of Friends of McCormick Park. Alex Mutt was the Senior Project Manager from Parks and Recreation at City Hall.

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■ – How do you feel about the finished design?  Is is everything you hoped for?  Do you feel like your efforts were worth all the work you put in?

KF –With everything there is compromise however, overall I feel that the community input was critical and very much worth the effort. The feedback at the draft proposal presentation was quite united. With this strong voice the main elements were addressed accordingly.

■ – You are an inspiration with all the work you have done for the park.  Why do you do it?

KF – The park is a really important place for so many people and for so many reasons. It brings people together, creates community, and makes a stronger, safer network of neighbours. Hopefully, with a little bit of collective effort, the payoff for the community can be great.

 

McCormick – Photos from the Archives

Gallery

Art in the Park

Since the fall, Linda Naccarato has been spending her Saturday mornings between 11 and 1 at McCormick Park creating outdoor artwork with children.  The materials range from sticks and leaves, to ice balls and snow cakes.  I had a few opportunities to join with my children over the past few months and it’s a great way to get out of the house and meet up with others.


naturalplay

■ – I’ve heard that you’ve been teaching art outside at McCormick Park since September. How did this start and how has the experience been so far?

Linda Naccarato – I was first contacted by the Friends of McCormick Park to lead some eco-art activities for the launch of the McCormick Park Cafe and new playground. On the day of the launch, I was overwhelmed by the support from the local community and their determination to make the park a centre for the neighbourhood. At a community meeting not long after, we discussed the possibility for a weekly, drop-in program that would connect kids to nature and attract families to the park. The experience has been incredibly positive so far, and we have a solid group of families that have now incorporated natural art making and creative play into their Saturday routines.

■ – What kinds of things are you doing with the kids and how has their reaction been?

LN – My focus is really to foster a variety of opportunities for open-ended natural play. Each week there is a new activity, like building structures with sticks and yarn or weaving with fabric and natural materials, but there are also lots of loose parts (stones, shells, bark etc.) to encourage the kids to play in their own creative ways. Although I’m always modelling new techniques, I try to keep my resources simple and accessible, so that parents and kids can easily reproduce them at home and continue the momentum to play outside.

The kids reactions have been fantastic. I love seeing them try something new, like drawing with crayons on hot rocks, but my favourite is when they use the materials in unexpected ways. It’s great to see them feeling comfortable to dive right in, experiment and create!

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■ – Can you give me a little information about you and your creative past? How did you come to be an art teacher?

LN – I come from a background in Visual Arts, and while studying Design in University I quickly realized how important it was for me creatively to keep my hands busy and my fingers messy. Luckily, I have always worked with kids, leading camp groups, working in preschools and teaching afterschool art programs, so I had a wonderful outlet to keep on experimenting and really play with art again. I eventually followed this path to Teacher’s College, where I focused on integrating art throughout the curriculum. The majority of the work I do now is in schools as an art educator, teaching diverse art practices like recycled textile weaving and natural shibori dyeing, practices that connect art-making with nature and the environment. Teaching art to me is all about showing kids another way for them to express their ideas, and think creatively.

■ – I’m inspired by your willingness to get out in the middle of winter to get creative. What drives you or inspires you?

LN – I know, playing outside in the season of Arctic air blasts seems pretty crazy! The truth is my inspiration comes from the many kids I’ve seen who would rather stay inside no matter what the weather is. I think that we need to model all seasons of outdoor play and teach our kids to really embrace the weather outside our windows no matter what that is. I have visited Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools in Northern Europe, and the children there loved being outside, whether it was in rain boots or snowsuits, they loved the freedom and all the opportunities they had to explore outdoors. I’m more than happy to bundle up each Saturday and share some of that enthusiasm for natural play with our Brockton neighbourhood families.

■ – I can’t wait to get my kids out there with you painting snow and making nature based art. What are you looking forward to this season?

LN – I love that winter gives us a white canvas to work on outside, so I’ll be excited to create art with seeds, sticks and coloured ice. Making art outdoors in a public space like the park also gives us a chance to make a little magic for unsuspecting neighbours and might just encourage someone else to get outside and create something.

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For more information on school workshops with Linda or if you are interested in starting your own neighbourhood natural art drop-in,  check out www.artwithlinda.ca, and follow her @artwithlinda on instagram.

A Christmas Miracle

It was holiday time again. Shopping, stressing and eating too much and then feeling too much guilt about eating too much and then eating too much again. That’s what I was “looking forward to” during the 3rd week of December.

The husband was away for work … again… and I was trying to hold down the fort without too many video games, ordering out, the occasional play date and the mandatory “families coming soon so you have to get a haircut” kind of day. That day was Sunday. We walked up and down Queen Street to find the perfect place for a trim. No, I wasn’t looking for something with chandeliers and fancy chairs; I was searching for an “open” sign. After about ten blocks we found one. Our “stylist” was a rough guy who pulled my kid’s face and sneered at me when I tried to tell him to take more off the sides and leave it a little longer on top. It was as if I’d ordered grain-fed kobe beef at Tim Horton’s. Okay, fine!  Do as you wish, strange man with a buzzing blade at my only child’s neck. I’m Canadian. I’m sorry. When it was done I paid him a whopping $8 and we walked home.

I, feeling satisfied that I had not only managed our passport photos with a new hair cut (I had mine cut at a really fancy place the day before for $70 because I’m a grown up! Shut up!) but we had felt the fresh cold air on our faces and the boy looked amazing. Sure, he was non-stop itching and complaining about being itchy. But…. I COULD SEE HIS EYES!!  I was great. We were great. All was great. I could do this. I could do anything. Dinner was easy and we ate happily as I read about Greek mythology and he gobbled up his noodles and kale. YES, I said KALE.  I was that awesome a mom.

Then to tempt the fate of Theseus, I said, “Let’s have a bath and wash that hair so you won’t be itchy.” He actually said yes. I was still so awesome. After playing in the bath and laughing and bonding and generally being an ad for a single mom who eats Cheerios with her clean cut son, I started to blow dry his hair. (Don’t ask me why. I never do this… well, actually, I don’t wash his hair that much either. I’d say it’s a philosophy but I’d be lying.) We were in our warm, cozy pajamas with our teeth brushed. I was ahead of schedule and felt pretty great about myself while blow drying his hair when I saw something on his scalp. I picked it out because of course it’s lint from his socks in his hair. It probably happens all the time…. right?  Sure.

But the lint had legs and dropped onto the floor. I screamed. I put the blowdryer on his head and started to look. His hair was moving…. not like Mariah Carey with the fan on her cause it’s in her contract, I’m talking about moving because it’s alive from legs. I gasped and I said in a frightened panicked voice that should never be used with children,

“WE HAVE LICE!!!!! OH MY GOD!!!”

My son doesn’t even look at me before he starts to scream louder than the blow dryer.

“WE HAVE LICE!!! WE’RE DOOMED!! DEAD!!”

I turn off the blow dryer before dropping it into the wet sink. I start to pace madly in the 3’x3’ bathroom.

“What are we gonna do? What can we do? I don’t know how to deal with this.”

And he says, “You should text someone. This is an emergency.  And I shouldn’t go to school tomorrow.”

“Right. I should text someone. You’re right.”

I run downstairs and find my phone. He runs down right next to me. So so so close to me that I want to push away that clean cut little face. That face that I have loved with my whole being since the day they handed me this perfect helpless being. That face that looked up at me for love and comfort but I wanted to say, “You are gross. You have bugs in your hair. GROSS!” Instead I just itched my own head and began texting. I group texted to my next door neighbour who was on vacation in Orlando and another neighbour down the street.

“WE HAVE LICE! I’m freaking out! Help me. Help me.”

Within seconds the Internet was crawling with panic.

From a Burger King somewhere in the USA:  “WHAT? I just choked on an onion. Hold on.”

From two streets over: “It’s ok. Do you have a lice comb?”

From me, as I scratch my head and my kid jumps up and down yelling, “EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!”

“We don’t have a lice comb. I don’t even know what that is. Help.”

From Burger King in USA: “I just found a living one on my oldest. We have another 16 hours of driving!”

Yikes, no help there.  Then at this point I did what no one ever does anymore. I did the unthinkable. I crossed the line of couth. I actually called the woman from two streets over on the phone. She was shocked. I was shocked. My son was itching but shocked.

“I’m freaking out. What do I do? I’m in my pyjamas and it’s Sunday night and I don’t have a lice comb.”

“Come over.”

“What? Are you crazy? Didn’t you get my text? WE HAVE LICE!”

“I know. It’s ok. Come over.”

I tell my son we are going to her house. He says, “I don’t think I should go to school tomorrow. It’s an EMERGENCY.”

I say, “Put your coat on. I’m freaking out. We have lice.”

Somewhere in between the panic of getting our coats and boots on and nearly slipping down the stairs, I did make some mangled attempts at deep Zen breathing. My son looked up at me. An opportunity had smiled through the scratching. He said,

“Mama…”

“Ya.”

“Mama, is this one of those times?”

“Which times?”

“Mama, is this one of those times when it’s ok to say a bad word? I mean, this is the kind of time where people might say it, right?”

“Yes, this is the kind of time.”

“Well, mayyyybbee, could I say a word? I feel like I really need to say a word and this is the right time to say it.”

“Hmm. Yes, this is definitely one of the times when I would say a word that was bad, sure.”

“Mama, do I have permission to say a word? A bad word?”

“Yes. Go ahead if you need to.”

Then he stopped moving, which is rare even in sleep, and he looked up at me with his one boot on and his coat open over his matching soccer ball pyjamas and his fresh hair cut. He looked up and me and he paused and he said with such force and pride,

“Fuckin’ time!  Fuckin’ time!”

I fell to the floor. I was laughing so hard and yes, there may have been a few tears that were on the precipice of panic that leaped into complete hysteria with hilarity. Now I know you are not supposed to laugh when your child swears because then he will do it again but I had no way of controlling it. I banged the floor with my fist and I laughed and I looked up and him and he was satisfied.

We reached the lice-checking neighbour/angel with her 8-year-old and 14-month-old. Two hours and a thousand lice later, my boy was clean. Then she did the nits. I thanked her and she said, “Uh, you’re next.” I laughed until I realized she wasn’t laughing. I sat in the chair with my head covered in coconut oil as she pulled living things with living legs and living proboscis off of my head. She breast fed as we put on our clothes to leave and I thanked her profusely. Her husband handed me a shot of vodka and told me we were always welcome unless we had bed bugs and then the door would be double locked. Everyone has a limit.We locked the door and made our way down the street to our salvation.  We passed a 22-year-old guy in his skinny jeans and full beard. He smiled at my son sweetly as if he remembered his first jaunt out in the dark in his pj’s. My son said, “Whoa, watch out. You don’t want to get my lice!” I said, “Hi.”

My son took the next day off school and I did twelve loads of laundry. We sat around picking each other’s heads, wearing shower caps and smelling like the coconut vacation we hadn’t had. It was almost Christmas and I felt like I had witnessed the most open-hearted miracle all year. My lice-checking angel would certainly have let Joseph and Mary birth a baby in her one- bedroom Parkdale apartment. There was a star hanging over Seaforth Avenue. We took the lice-checking angel three bags of fruit and vegetables the next day. And yes, got her to check my head again, of course. I’m not crazy. Yet.

Gallery Hopping on St. Helen’s

I have always enjoyed looking at art.  While in high school in the suburbs of Toronto, our amazing art teacher would encourage us to go to Toronto and see the latest shows in the small artist-run or commercial galleries.  This was before Queen West was a thing. We would take school buses downtown to creak up the stairs at 80 Spadina or roam the halls of 401 Richmond in Toronto’s Fashion District.  I remember our class piling into Jane Corkin’s tiny gallery space on John Street before she moved her gallery to the Distillery District.

At age 17, I remember taking the subway down to Dundas West Station with my girlfriend (who would eventually become my wife) and walking down Dundas West to Morrow Ave.  This seemed like the least likely place to find contemporary art.  This strip is starting to gentrify now, but back then it really was a no man’s land.  We were encouraged to hunt down Olga Korper Gallery – a place where some of the best art in Toronto was shown —  and still is today — in a beautiful gallery space.  Little did I know then that I would eventually have my home a short walk away from there.

It was these trips to Toronto art galleries which must have inspired my girlfriend and I to take a trip to Europe in the summer between Grade 12 and O.A.C. (when OAC still existed!) to see art.  Our parents gave us the okay without thinking that we might actually save up enough money to make a go of it.  We were very young – I remember inadvertently dropping my passport at Pearson Airport while going to check in.  Luckily my mom was close behind me and she retrieved it.  Our plan was a month long trip:  Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris.  We survived and luckily, because we weren’t officially adults, we we able to get into some of the best galleries in the world for free.

Anyhow, this article is not about galleries a thousand kilometres away by plane but about the contemporary art that can be found steps away on St. Helen’s Ave. between College and Bloor streets.  This is a hot new destination for art in Toronto with galleries being outpriced by high end clothing stores on West Queen West; as a result, they are now moving to more unconventional digs, spreading out further north and west in the city.

To me, St. Helen’s was previously just a street on the route to Value Village where we  shopped for cheap toys, books and clothing for the kids or bought halloween costumes and browsed around the used furniture. This street was also my first introduction to a “loft” building where my artist cousin lived.  It was was so bohemian!  Then shortly after, the building was sold off and turned into fancy condos.  St. Helen’s has some nice houses on the east side that face what used to be small warehouses or factories.  Many of these buildings have now been converted into spaces where you can see some of the most interesting art in the city.

It’s fascinating to see how the art scene moves and changes over time and geography.  Take one of the galleries on this St. Helen’s strip for example, TPW (Toronto Photographers Workshop).  They were one of the galleries I used to visit 18 years ago at 80 Spadina.  Since then they moved to the Ossington strip before it was taken over by restaurants and shops, then to a temporary space on Dundas West.  Now they are building a new space here on St. Helen’s Ave.  Their movement through the streets of Toronto tells a history of where the artists and galleries can afford to live.

Gallery hopping for me is either an exhilarating or extremely disappointing affair, similar to a trip to Value Village.  Sometimes you leave empty-handed and sometimes you hit the jackpot.  With the galleries that have moved here you are more likely to find something that will turn on your brain or stimulate the eye.  Visual art is interesting, as it is always an ongoing discussion.  Most of the time, it feels as if you can only really understand bits and pieces of the conversation.  Sometimes, when things come together and you can connect with it, it’s so refreshing, like a swim on a hot summer’s day or the perfect cup of coffee.   And often, that connection comes days or weeks afterwards, when you have that AHA! moment, thinking back and smiling as you step out of the shower or while you are brushing your teeth.

 

The Galleries


 

Clint Roenisch Gallery

Address: 190 Saint Helens Avenue
What’s on: Jennifer Murphy and Eli Langer: Caravansary of Joy,  March 20 – April 25, 2015

caravansaryofjoy

When did you move here?
 July 10, 2014

Why did you move here?
After 11 years on Queen St I wanted a bigger space and also my former gallery was being knocked down for condos anyway. Plus my colleague Daniel Faria and I used to work together so it was nice to be beside his gallery. And when I saw this space with such great proportions, high ceilings and no columns, I knew it would work well.

What type(s) of work do you show and/or what is your philosophy on the work that you show
I show everything from film, sculpture, drawings, photography, installation and painting. My philosophy is simply that I show the artists I believe in, those whose work I feel has merit and authenticity.


 

Daniel Faria Gallery

Address: 188 St Helens Avenue
What’s On: Douglas Coupland: Our Modern World,  January 22 – March 21, 2015
Valerie Blass: My Life, March 26 – April 25, 2015

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Robert Kananaj Gallery

Address: 172 St Helens Avenue
What’s On: Constans: Descendents13 until 14 March
That Was For This: Sculpture/Installation Thesis Exhibition Series, March 17 to March 28, 2015 (Reception: March 21, 3 – 6 pm)

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ENVELOPMENT(S): paths taken and not taken,  April 3rd – 5th, 12 – 5pm (Reception: April 2nd, 7pm – 10pm)

Spring Show Flyer 11 To Print.ai

When did you move here?
We started at this new location; 172 St Helens with the project Void on June 2014, open to the public, since our Third Anniversary of RKG, exhibition July 16, 2014.

Why did you move here?
We moved to this new location for more than one good reason: One, this is much better space than our first space where our gallery was located for three years at Bloor West. Two, it is a new destination to see cluster of exciting galleries providing and supporting unconventional life-giving art projects. The gallery is like any one artist, in quest with the spontaneity and unpredictable directions and methods, sharing with the art-loving public a unique art-experience.

What type(s) of work do you show and/or what is your philosophy on the work that you show?
Our gallery is dedicated to show and promote any artist or fine art that provides a unique art-experience. The gallery and it’s artists celebrate our time as we live it.


 TPW (Toronto Photographers Workshop)

Address: 170 St Helens Avenue
What’s On:  under renovations, opening in the near future.

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Scrap Metal Gallery

Address: 11 Dublin St. Unit E.
What’s On: Group Show: Somebody Everybody Nobody until March 28th

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