You won’t find any buttons here
Despite its name, you probably won’t find any buttons at The Button Factory in Uptown Waterloo. The Button Factory was named after its original use: built in 1886, it was a manufacturer of buttons. From its original incarnation, the space has seen numerous changes over 128 years, such as being a glove factory and an office supply store. But in 1994 it became what it is today — an art gallery for the Kitchener-Waterloo community.
“[The building]had been sitting empty for a while and a group of artists had gone to the city and said that it would make a great art centre. It was a grassroots thing with the city of Waterloo and we got the building. That was in 1994 that it got incorporated and so this year is our twentieth anniversary. We’ve been an arts centre all this time,” said Heather Franklin, executive director of The Button Factory.
The Button Factory is unique in that it is not just a gallery, but an arts centre. As one of the few arts centres in the region, the institution provides programming and events for both amateur and professional artists. The space has also been host to numerous arts-related projects such as concerts of all genres, an audition space and arts summer camps for children.
Even though there is a serious lack of buttons, The Button Factory is always open to make references to its vast history. Notably, for their upcoming twentieth anniversary in June, they will be working on three large interrelated projects.
The first is an event called “Button Up, Button Down” purposefully juxtaposing the ‘uptight’ history of the Button Factory as an industrial workspace with its current artsy motivations.
Designed by Sue Sturdy, the project will see The Button Factory covered, appropriately, in button down or button up shirts donated by current and past members. The shirts will be connected and wrapped around the building. The Button Factory has always aimed to fill a specific niche within the Waterloo community—this is best shown by an affiliation deal that was struck between The Button Factory and the city.
“[The city of Waterloo] noticed that there was some space in their programming that they didn’t have. This was a perfect opportunity to A) have this facility have life back in it and use for it and B) to cater to the Waterloo Region in the arts,” said Desiree Lichty marketing manager at The Button Factory.
“There are a number of different groups in town that have an affiliation agreement with the city. You can be affiliated with the city of Waterloo and there is an agreement between us and them in terms of what they provide and we provide,” said Franklin. “We provide arts programming that they’re not actually doing in the city of Waterloo and they’ve given us this space for free. This is a city building that they’ve given us to grow arts throughout the community and cater to the community.”