A crowded night at Rumble House on February 26, 2020. PHOTO: SARAH AKEREDOLU

Seven years ago, Rich Théroux created Rumble House, a home for local live art battles. While it is now established in Calgary’s art scene, Théroux says there have been many challenges along the way.

“I want just a place to combine art-making with art-exhibiting so that the people who would be buying the work would be able to see the work being made and connect with it on a different level,” Théroux says.

In 2012, Théroux opened Gorilla House, a platform for local artists to engage with their diverse audiences freely. However, the building was sold by its owner shortly after, causing Théroux to move the gallery to downtown Calgary in 2013, and re-opening the gallery with its new name “Rumble House.”

During the transition from Gorilla House to Rumble House, Théroux met his now wife and co-founder of Rumble House, Jess Szabo. 

Szabo states, “When I first met him, we were teaching at the same school, and he told me his idea for Gorilla house originally, and I was like, ‘Whoa that sounds really awesome, and I can’t come every Wednesday, but that’s a really great idea.’ And then, of course, I ended up coming every Wednesday.” 

On Wednesday nights, Rumble hosts 30 to 40 people of all ages who spin a wheel to come up with ideas and create artwork to be auctioned off two hours later. It welcomes artists of all mediums, from painting to glasswork, who showcase their work live at the gallery.

Beginnings

After coming out of art school, Théroux’s concept for  Rumble House presented a freeing view for Szabo.

“I remember I was teaching with someone that wasn’t super supportive of my art, so it was just a pretty liberating thought to have a place where we could make whatever we wanted to and be around people who were making art,” Szabo says.

Together, they embarked on a journey to turn Rumble house into what it is today – a creative hub promoting local artists and providing them with space to create, exhibit and sell their work all in the same night. March 18, 2020, will mark Théroux’s 356th Wednesday night as co-host at Rumble House. 

Challenges

Although they are now well established, the journey to creating Rumble has been full of challenges for Théroux and Szabo. 

“We had no money, we had no space, we had no time. Jess and I teach full-time and have a family, and then we had two-second careers – there’s two of us doing four jobs,” he says.

Aside from his own struggles, Théroux also saw struggles among his guests.

“We do see all kinds of suffering. When people are trying to overcome things, they may come to a place like Rumble house for support,” he says.

Szabo says bringing many new people into the collective often invites tension.

“Rich has had to have really human and hard conversations with the people in the space just in terms of how we treat each other. There was a point where people were saying that it wasn’t inclusive,” she expresses.

“If your motivations are to make money and to get fame, then it’s not the place for you. It’s more like a home for artists.”

mark vazquez mackay

Inclusivity

In all, they keep pushing towards their goal to create an inclusive and open avenue for art. Mark Vazquez MacKay, an instructor at the Alberta University of the Arts, says Théroux and Szabo have absolutely achieved this goal.

“It’s not for publicity, it’s not to make money, it’s not to even sell art, it’s just like a home for artists. I think that’s why people gravitate to it. If your motivations are to make money and to get fame, then it’s not the place for you. It’s more like a home for artists,” MacKay says.

MacKay has been attending Rumble House for the past six years. He says initially he was intimidated by the two-hour limit but saw it as a challenge to engage. He saw a new light in Rumble that he had not seen in other collectives.

“The way that Rich and Jess are doing it, there is no chance they’re going to make money and there is no chance they are going to get famous, but they are spreading love and you can’t target that, that’s the highest objective a human can have,” MacKay shares.

Uplifting

In all of this, Théroux and Szabo uplift each other despite these challenges.

“When he is feeling low, I’m bringing him up and when I’m feeling kind of unsure about stuff, he is bringing us up. So we take turns losing it a little bit, so we can always bring each other up,” Szabo says.

Even as the new year approached, Théroux and Szabo questioned whether to keep the gallery open.

“Our five-year lease came up and we were like “do we sign it again? [However] there always seems to be a kick in the pants or something really beautiful that happens as we are going down,” Szabo states. 

She continues, stating “I feel like there aren’t a lot of places where it’s just like ‘come as you are.’ There are a lot of pretenses. … There’s not a lot of places where it is just earnest [where there are] graffiti kids painting next to classically trained painters. I think [that’s] what we offer – diversity and honesty.”

“I think it’s kind of the ‘island of misfit toys’ where we’re always filled with people that are looking to make a connection, and then if we weren’t open, I don’t know where they’d make that connection.”

rich théroux

For Théroux, the established family bond was a significant factor in his decision to keep pushing.

“For a number of our patrons, they’re people who are doing well and live on their own and happy but they come to connect. For some people, we might be the only people that they speak to for the week,” he says.

Even when they considered shutting down, that bond kept them from doing so. 

“My son said, ‘If you close, where will we socialize?’ So I think it’s kind of the ‘island of misfit toys’ where we’re always filled with people that are looking to make a connection, and then if we weren’t open, I don’t know where they’d make that connection,” Théroux shares.

Every week brings a brand new adventure and a brand new challenge for the collective.

“We have never really held on to one idea for too long. We just keep adapting,” Théroux says.

“We are still learning,” Szabo says. “Every single week we are learning something new and with every new thing that comes up: New issues in the city, new issues within our family, we are learning and growing.”