At Edmonton’s New McLuhan House, the Medium is the Message

28Jan16

This home at 11342 – 64th Street was once the home of famous Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan. Photo by Alex Kuskis

In part, it’s an interpretive centre and photo gallery, celebrating its famous namesake.

The house also provides office space for Arts Habitat and the Edmonton Poetry Festival. There’s a big studio space with lots of natural light in the renovated garage, soon to be home to the McLuhan House official artist-in-residence. The sunny and open main floor will also be available for rent for smaller arts events, such as poetry readings, book launches or musical recitals. Arts Hab also has plans to revamp the home’s backyard boathouse as more studio space, perhaps for writers.

Because the house is in the middle of a residential street, it had to be rezoned for offices. That required lots of neighbourhood consultation and engagement.

“We really wanted to make sure the community would welcome us”, she says. “But everybody seems very supportive. They’re looking forward to the house being active.”

Huffman’s team worked closely with local architect David Murray and local interior designer Johanne Yakula, who both specialize in period restoration.

They strove to restore the home’s original feel, replacing the asphalt roof with cedar and choosing paint colours to reflect the period. But there are also post-modern touches. Instead of a floral wallpaper frieze in the high-ceiling living room, for example, the sort of thing that would have be typical of the era, they opted for a painted frieze of some of McLuhan’s most famous aphorisms.

There’s also a multimedia installation created by local artist and McLuhan scholar Marco Adria, an interactive sculpture made out of flickering TV screens, where the viewer’s real-time video image shares pride of place with archival television footage. 

The highlight of the interpretive centre is its collection of archival photos of the young McLuhan and his family. Most have never been published or seen publicly. They were a gift to the museum from McLuhan’s youngest son, Michael, a professional photographer.

The striking photographs don’t just capture McLuhan’s Highlands childhood. In our electric age of ephemeral digital images, they are a remarkable, physical evocation of our community’s past. They remind us that while we may live in an online global village, we also inhabit a real place, with real stories. And while it’s true that McLuhan’s connection to Edmonton is a bit tenuous, McLuhan House isn’t just about the writer and his ideas. It’s just as much about our shared social history. 

In a city with a sorry track record of preserving its architecture, it’s wonderful to see this small jewel shimmer, providing a glimpse of the past and affordable workspace for today’s artists and arts organizations. 

“All words, in every language, are metaphors,” McLuhan said.

I don’t know if all houses are metaphors. But this one is, a metaphor for our evolving appreciation of our local culture.

Every society honours its live conformists and its dead troublemakers,” McLuhan also said.

How lucky to be able to honour our homegrown troublemaker, here and now. (Source: http://goo.gl/6GvY3Y )

Mcluhan_House_Edmontona_1929

McLuhan House in 1929

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