U of G’s Photo Arts Club gets screwed during renovations

U of G’s Photo Arts Club gets screwed during renovations

Current CSA president tries cleaning up a messy situation  

The University of Guelph’s Photo Arts Club (PAC) was informed by the Central Student Association (CSA) that they had two weeks to move their things so that their space could be renovated to half its current size.

According to the PAC, on July 7 current CSA president Chelsea Mulvale emailed the PAC to let them know that they had to move their things by July 20.

The Ontarion spoke to Nenad Vitas, a PAC executive who has been involved with the club for the last year, about his initial reaction to the email from Mulvale.

“We just have a lot of expensive equipment, especially in the facility, and it would just be extremely difficult for us to even begin moving or shifting our stuff. I’m not even too sure where we would put it. And plus, the fact that it’s not done in a timely manner, this is stuff we would have to coordinate with our whole team before moving forward with any sort of renovation,” explained Vitas.

Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

The initial email sent to the PAC by Mulvale also stated, “I was not transitioned on where these conversations left off, although I was told that Mike Calvert [manager of operations] from the UC was given the go ahead to speak with GQE [Guelph Queer Equality] to discuss this move and the required renovations.

Since all of the parties recognized a miscommunication had taken place, they met to discuss options on July 20. In this meeting between the PAC, Mulvale, and Calvert it was revealed that the needs assessment that was carried out by Jay Rojas — the CSA’s local affairs commissioner during the last school year — was not provided to Calvert or Mulvale.

Ema Suvajac — a PAC executive who has been involved with the club since 2006 — has been working on this issue and spoke to The Ontarion about the needs assessment not being taken into consideration.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating because the last we heard from the CSA was January, from the local affairs commissioner Jay Rojas, who had performed our needs assessment. At that time, the CSA had approved renovations to the clubs’ hallway,” said Suvajac.

“Jay assured us that our hallway would not be affected with these renovations, but there were plans down the line to repurpose the Photo Arts Club space, but neither he nor anybody else elaborated on what that would mean, what that would entail, or what kind of timeline they were looking at. We were just assured that ‘Don’t worry, the current renovations have nothing to do with you,’” Suvajac continued.

Calvert and Mulvale were under the impression that the PAC had been conferred with and notified of the renovations by the previous CSA executive.

On Rojas’s involvement, Mulvale stated: “It is not up to a single executive to pass that [needs assessment] along.”

The needs assessment filled out by the PAC “would have been passed onto the Finance and Operations Commissioner [Ryan Shoot] who was the lead on that renovation,” wrote Mulvale in an email to The Ontarion.

Mulvale went on to explain that there are two renovations occurring at the same time: the clubs space renovations that are being led by the CSA and the larger UC renovations that are being led by UC Admin.

The renovations to the current PAC don’t fall under the CSA’s jurisdiction directly, the Club Space renovations to the second floor are an agreement between the CSA and UC Admin. While the PAC’s space was not being renovated under the CSA, it was to be renovated under UC Admin.

“It wasn’t until we went into the space and saw that nothing was moved that we realized something is wrong,” explained Calvert — from UC Admin — to the PAC during the meeting on July 20. Calvert assured the PAC that his aim was transparency and that he is disappointed with the situation.

Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

Because GQE is a special interest group, their group was present during the discussions with Calvert and UC Admin while the PAC, being a club under the CSA, was not involved in the process.

In future discussions about space changes, Calvert plans to also have a club representative present at meetings so that this situation is not repeated.

While it is within the jurisdiction of the CSA to do what they like with the spaces they control on the second floor of the UC, Mulvale is attempting to reach a compromise with the PAC so that both groups can function and serve the U of G community.

Despite the situation, Calvert and Mulvale explained that the renovations must happen in some capacity because a contract has been made and money has been tendered. Similarly, a deal has been made with GQE.

During the meeting, members of the PAC along with Mulvale and Calvert considered different arrangements of the space in an effort to try to make the reduced space function.

Although they have yet to reach a solution that would satisfy the needs of both the PAC and GQE, Mulvale states that the group “came up with some possibilities that we are exploring further.”   

Suvajac explained that the renovations will end the PAC’s ability to function because “every room in this club is dedicated to … a specific thing.” She then detailed why each room was needed.

An office space

  • Attending workshops
  • Signing up for workshops or signing out equipment
  • Storage of cameras, lenses, documents, tripods, drying racks, drying cabinet, printer for large format digital prints

A photography studio

  • Requires a certain depth to shoot the photo
  • Requires a certain width to house the white backdrop
  • Requires independent entry so shoots are not disturbed

Two dark rooms  

  • Specific plumbing that is temperature controlled for negative development
  • Ventilation because of the chemicals involved in development
  • Light tight rooms for film development
  • Specific electrical configuration for red lamps used in development  
  • Cabinetry to house chemicals
Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

In response to this, Mulvale explained that the renovations would provide a garage area with a locker that would allow for equipment to be stored and rented out as well as meeting spaces of different sizes that would be accessible to the PAC along with the rest of the CSA clubs.

According to several members of the PAC, these additional spaces are still insufficient due to the larger equipment the PAC uses as well as the equipment that needs to be stored in close proximity to the dark room.

The Ontarion asked the PAC executive members about the importance of the PAC to U of G students.

“It’s very affordable. It’s a democratized photographic resource. So that’s very practical, but on a larger scale — more philosophical — photography has never been more important. With social media, and the importance of media awareness, nothing makes you more aware of the media than if you’ve seen behind the curtain and you’re creating your own work,” said Peter Roosevelt, a PAC executive from 2009 to 2015.

“We’re not looking to make much of a profit here, we’re just here to support the community,” Vitas added.

“Every club and every student should have their own social media campaign,” Roosevelt continued. “Being able to promote yourself in a visual manner is more important than ever before. And the studio lets you do that as a physical space, but more importantly there’s resources here for people to teach you how to do that. It doesn’t take too much to get decent-looking results, and elevate the selfie quite quickly. I mean I feel like every club should utilize this space.”

Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

Suvajac shared the impact the PAC has had on shaping her life and career.

“Growing up, I remember my dad developing photos in this makeshift darkroom we had in Bosnia. … And I remember as a kid, the magic of watching an image appear from a blank piece of paper, for a two-year-old that’s mind-boggling,” said Suvajac, who attributes to the PAC her ability to start her own photography business rather than stay in the field of molecular biology, which she studied at the University of Guelph.

In the end the execs all agreed with Roosevelt’s point: “It’s not so much about us personally, it’s about keeping the art alive, both in its traditional analog format all the way up to brand new technology.”

The future of the PAC is unclear, but it is obvious that better procedures need to be developed in order to increase institutional memory and transparency moving forward. Mulvale has expressed that they are striving to increase training and transition time so incoming executives are better informed.

Mulvale also told the PAC that they can develop a written agreement between the CSA and the PAC.

Mulvale hopes that will assist in their goal for a more coherent and comprehensive transition for executives, which would allow the PAC to focus on serving the community rather than on keeping their doors open.

It remains to be seen what that understanding will be and if these renovations will end the PAC’s ability to function.

Photo by Mariah Bridgeman/The Ontarion.


  • Gillian July 25, 2017 3:47 pm

    If there’s one thing that I know about this campus is that space is extremely limited and highly contested, and needs to be fought for tooth and nail.

    I encourage the PAC to fight this as much as they can, as the type of custom, exact what you need space they have does not exist anywhere else on campus.

    I want GQE to have a home, but they have vastly more flexible space requirements.

    I think historical precedent with the length of tenure the PAC has had in the UC also needs to be taken into account.

  • Ema July 25, 2017 4:15 pm

    Thank you so much for taking an interest in this issue! We truly appreciate the time you have spent speaking with us at the Photo Arts Club, and we hope that we can find a solution going forward.

Comments are closed.