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Noodle Gallery at Alton Mill radiates welcoming atmosphere for art lovers of every degree

January 13, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Rob Paul

Noodle Gallery at the Alton Mill Arts Centre probably isn’t like the art galleries you picture in your mind.

Its aim is to be the place everyone feels comfortable, from people who know nothing about art to artists themselves.

Take founder Monica Kerr-Coster’s business card, for example. Her title on it is “Gallery Mistress” because of the zany way the Noodle Gallery kind of fell into her lap nearly a decade ago. The card also states, “noo·dle (nōōd’l): (n) that mushy thing inside your skull (v) the cool stuff you do with it.”

Kerr-Coster’s vision of Noodle Gallery was never to be a gallery that catered to the upper-class or felt like an environment for elitists. The environment she wanted to portray was that of warmth and inclusivity.

Of course, she never even thought she’d be running an art gallery herself, so why would she want to make others feel like they don’t fit in at Noodle when she herself didn’t think she would when this grand adventure initially presented itself to her?

“Funny enough, this is why it says, ‘Gallery Mistress’ on my business card instead of curator; I sort of stumbled onto Noodle Gallery,” she said. “My husband (Robin) is an IP (intellectual property) lawyer, and he has his own private practice and when we moved up here, he was practicing out of our house for a number of years. Then circumstances at home with three young kids made it more difficult for him. He looked around and there wasn’t a lot of workspaces or office areas by us so he approached the Mill owners and asked if they ever rent the upstairs art studios to professionals.

“They told him it’s really important to them it remains are art centre, but they told him to come over and look at the space. He mentioned that I do artwork and that I could use a studio to display work in the front and he could have his office in the back. They loved the idea and when he told me I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ because I’d never done professional art and I was intimidated. I’d call my work ‘higher fine craft’ rather than ‘art.’ But we knew people who were artists, so we discussed having a gallery space in the front and Coster Law would be in the back. That’s how we started in the upstairs of the Alton Mill.”

So, how did a spontaneous decision to showcase art develop into the Noodle Gallery patrons of the Alton Mill see today? Well, Kerr-Coster’s love of art and showing artists work eventually led to a new opportunity.

“We started showing some cool furnishings with a steam punk style and doing art exhibitions. At that time, it was just fine art and I’d have it open on the weekends with another artist that could display. Then every holiday season I’d do a Christmas market-type thing with unique handcrafted items for November and December. That was from 2014 to 2017 and then in 2017 the large gallery on the ground floor closed up and the Mill owners approached us because they liked what we had done upstairs and wanted us to expand it and move downstairs.

“We formed a partnership with the Mill owners and let me run all of Noodle Gallery downstairs which meant Robin lost his office space but things changed at home, so he was able to move back there. I’d also have to say that as bizarre as having an IP law office and art gallery together sounds, because of the nature of Robin’s work, his clients are very creative people and anytime he’d have clients come to the Mill they really appreciated the gallery and the creative things all around the building.”

The thing Kerr-Coster has always strived for at the Noodle Gallery is to ensure a relaxed vibe so that everyone who comes in feels like they can be themselves as they poke around the gallery.

“When we first opened up and I did up the business card, I just didn’t feel right putting ‘gallery curator’ because I’ve never gone to school for art curation or art history. To me, that’s not what Noodle is about. When Robin came home and started talking about an art centre, I got very intimidated. I recognized that regular people get intimidated about going into are galleries. They feel like it’s this big pretentious space where you have to be super quiet. I didn’t want Noodle to feel like that, and from the get-go I wanted it to feel like a welcoming and comfortable country store—like there’s chalkboard signs, there’s a couple couches, and there’s music. 

“When people come in, I always talk to them and be my friendliest because I want them to feel good when they walk in and not intimidated. I’m basically striving to have a place for regular people. I’m not catering to the serious art collectors, I’m catering to people who just want a piece of original art for a reasonable price.”

Obviously with COVID-19 being a factor in everything the last two years, the Noodle Gallery has had to make changes, but Kerr-Coster says it actually motivated her to finally put time into the e-commerce side of the business. 

“Unlike a lot of other places like restaurants that are being affected in such a negative way, we’ve had the opposite experience overall,” she said. “Obviously, when there are lockdowns it’s not great with nobody going out and able to go into any retail and it was hurtful for business. However, it also forced me to pivot and get my butt in gear with online stuff because that had been something I’d been meaning to do anyway. I’d always wanted to get an online shopping website up and it forced me to and to pay more attention to it. That was a positive and it also showed me how much I enjoy being in the Mill and interacting with people. Online shopping is great and getting sales within it always feels good, but it’s just not the same. In terms of where we stand over the last two years of COVID, we’ve actually done really well. 

“We have sold more larger pieces of work than we ever have, and I think it’s because with people not being able to travel and go out to dinner as often and see live entertainment, there are some lucky people who have seen their disposal income increase. When you look at what you spend disposal income on, it’s usually vacation and when that’s taken away, a lot of people started spending money on renovations and along with that they’ve looked at their empty walls and decided to finally go for it with buying bigger pieces of art. From that standpoint it’s been fruitful for Noodle and I’m sure many other artists and galleries have experienced that. From the smaller artisan market product side, it’s also been busy and that’s come from the big push and increased awareness around supporting and shopping local.”

As for what the future holds for Noodle, like the atmosphere in the gallery, Kerr-Costner takes a relaxed approach at how she looks at it and plans to do this for as long as her passion burns bright. 

“I think because of life experiences I’m really bad at thinking about the future, that’s with anything,” she said. “People plan for the future but I’m horrible at it. I think it stems from losing an older brother at a young age and recognizing you can plan all you want, and it can change in the matter of a minute. That’s not to be morbid, I just recognize I don’t know what the future holds and knowing sometimes what you plan for doesn’t happen. So, I just continue along tickety-boo and just really enjoy it and don’t think too much ahead about where things are going. I don’t have any plans to ever expand or open up a bigger gallery because to me the great enjoyment of Noodle is being in the Alton Mill. 

“The Alton Mill Art Centre building itself is so special and that’s why I enjoy being there and having a place of business in there. The most I look ahead with Noodle is basically with what artist I’m going to feature and what artisan products I’ll bring in. The one thing I think ahead with is, for instance, that I’ve never done a featured show with ceramics and pottery. Now I’m looking at this spring having a ceramic show from potters across Canada. I never really think, ‘Where is Noodle going?’ and honestly I don’t see it going further than me containing to do what I do until I’m not doing it anymore.”



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