It’s hard to miss the bright red door of the newly opened Arrieta Art Studio on New West's historic Front Street.
Inside, a couple of tables and chairs rest next to a tall window facing the riverfront; and rows of framed paintings hang haphazardly on a crumbling reddish-brown brick wall.
“This is a really old building,” says Mishel Arrieta, who opened the studio about two months ago at 707 Front St. From what she has heard, it was built in the 1880s. “I have to be very delicate with it [the wall]. I have put some paintings on nails that were already there.”
Before Arrieta booked it for her studio, the building had remained vacant for a long time, she says.
Though, in the past, as per Canpages, it served as a Royal City Wellness office; and as shown in a New Westminster Archives photo, a second-hand business called Household Traders operated there in the 1970s.
Set in New West's historic Front Street
Arrieta had found the place by “fluke,” thanks to yet another art initiative that she has been running since 2018 — APT POP.
Arrieta and photographer Ben Pilger founded APT POP, a New Westminster-based annual art pop-up, as a fun platform to feature artists from across Canada.
Most of their pop-ups, as the name suggests, happened in Pilger’s two-bedroom apartment (hence APT), sometimes bringing in as many as 100 people.
This April 2022, however, the duo decided to switch the venue for the pop-up from Pilger’s apartment to an open space on Front Street. It was at that event that someone pointed them to the 707 Front St. building that was available for rent at the time. When Arrieta looked in through the building's giant windows for the first time, her first reaction was: “It looks really rough.”
But what had her convinced to sign the deal was the low rent and large space inside — significantly larger than her previous studio in Surrey (which was the reception area of what used to be a doctor’s office converted into an art space).
When Arrieta moved in, the flooring and the walls were half finished. It seemed as if someone had abandoned it midway through a renovation, she says.
She, along with her best friend, her boyfriend and her co-curator at APT TOP, painted the rooms, and patched the holes in the walls, all by themselves on a strict budget.
Promoting local artists
Now, the space is all spruced up for paint nights for adults and kids, features a gift shop with a curated selection of handmade soaps, greeting cards, oracle decks, accessories, ceramic bowls, woven baskets, art prints, and more — a majority of them done by New West artists, and a beverage corner. The space will also host APT POP’s next pop-up.
The studio is Arrieta’s childhood dream come true — something that, as she vividly remembers, she has wanted since her kindergarten days in Ontario.
At some point, besides creating art, Arrieta started enjoying teaching art too. And so, the idea of a studio evolved as a place to both feature and teach art.
Arrieta has a fine arts degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and has trained to become an educational assistant. Her past work has involved teaching art to kids with disabilities — something that she is keen on continuing in her new space.
“I find that a lot of adults and kids really want to do art. But they don't really have the space to do it,” she says.
While the walk-ins at the studio are mostly adults aged 20 and above, her tent at the recently held Car Free Day saw hordes of kids come in. So, Arrieta is still gauging what the community really wants.
Meanwhile, having checked off her childhood dream of starting an art studio at 27, the question remains: what next?
“It depends on where life takes me... I'm still very young. I'm navigating.”
As of now, she just hopes the business succeeds — more for the artists that are featured at her studio than for herself, she clarifies. “I want to give space to artists to sell their things because I know it's difficult to have that,” she adds.
“So, if I am successful, they are too.”
Arrieta Art Studio is located at 707 Front St. Visit the studio's website for more details.