Marlene Collins wants Arts Underground to be more than a place for artists to show their art or to take or teach a course. She wants artists to spend time there.

She hopes to do this by providing more services. Arts Underground proponents seek to support artists, to provide fertile soil for them to grow in. Changes are being made to fertilize that soil.

They have expanded their art supply store, removing desks and storage to devote the whole small room to art supplies. They’ve named it “The Cupboard” and it offers a better range of paper, oil, acrylic and watercolour paints, now, as well as printing supplies and even canvases.

Artists can also order materials not on the shelves through Arts Underground. A “frequent-buyer reward card” can be stamped each time an artist buys $25 worth of art supplies. Ten punches are worth a $25 gift certificate toward more paint.

But this is only the beginning.

The back room used to be set up as a traditional darkroom. The problem was, nobody was using it. So it will become an artist resource centre.

Arts Underground has partnered with the Yukon Arts Centre on some reading material. YAC has a library of contemporary visual-arts books and show catalogues. People weren’t heading up the hill to browse, so YAC decided to send them downtown.

Comfy chairs in the studio and resource room aim to lure interested readers. Arts Underground also subscribes to a range of contemporary arts magazines. These will be kept in the studio because “it doesn’t matter if they get paint and clay on them”.

But more than just books, that room will become a digital studio.

Arts Underground has partnered with MEADIAsolutions, the local Mac rep, on putting a lot of digital power into artists’ hands.

MEADIAsolutions’ digital-image-making-pro, Davy Joly, got talking with Collins about the underused darkroom. What about a digital darkroom? he wondered. Trevor Mead-Robins, owner of MEADIAsolutions, and Joly’s boss, was “so impressed by Marlene and Arts Underground” that he asked, “Why don’t we go all the way?” and proposed putting in a very-high-end digital multimedia studio.

The Mac Pro top-of-the-line tower computer will have lots of memory and software pre-installed. It will run Mac’s usual iLife programs as well as the full Adobe suite and Aperture for digital images, Final Cut Pro for filmmakers and Logic Studio for sound editing. It will have two 24-inch screens and a dual graphics card. There will also be lights and tripods for digital photography.

It will be set up so a user can book time on the computer for a rental fee. They can go in with “images or their film, and work on it, and then either save on a memory stick or CD or DVD and take it away at the session.

“It will be able to handle all audio, video and photographic needs, from beginner to advanced users,” says Mead-Robins.

Mead-Robins and MEADIAsolutions has been “supporting artists for years, unofficially”, offering them lower rates and sponsorships, helping them with their Macs.

He’s excited to be able to help them “more officially” and to get these high-ticket programs into the hands of artists who can’t afford them.

The system he’s built, he says, “is powerful enough that I’ll probably going to be down there myself working on it” despite having his own digital studio at home. He says if he builds a system that’s nice enough that he will be tempted to use it, then “other people will be tempted to learn on it and use it as well”.

Mead-Robins is himself a budding documentary filmmaker. He has 25 hours of footage that he needs to edit. Parawaiting, his film on paragliding in the Yukon, has lived into its working title as it’s waited two years to be edited.

For the last two years, MEADIAsolutions has taken up all of Mead-Robins’s time. Now the business is doing well so he can invest in community and, at the same time, find time and tools to work on his own film.

“Arts Underground is a great place, conducive to learning, sharing and experimenting.” He hopes the digital studio will be a catalyst for himself as well as for other artists.

MEADIAsolutions evolved into a business from community demand, Mead-Robins relates. He had friends and knew artists who needed Mac support. So, over 10 years they became the official Apple re-sellers and service providers in the Yukon. They operate depots in Dawson and in Whitehorse, with Dave Haddock as audio pro, in Whitehorse, and Davy Joly as the photo pro, as well as two network specialists.

“I always look to the Hougens,” reflects Mead-Robins. He noticed that their donated space made Arts Underground possible and thought that was a great thing. The business going well, he says “[It was] time for me to put back into the community.”

The digital studio will remain the property of MEADIAsolutions and they will service and maintain it. Half the rental fees will return to the business and half will remain with Arts Underground.

Arts Underground has started offering courses in cahoots with MEADIAsolutions. One, recently completed, features “digital-imaging workflow”. I’ll admit, I was unsure what that meant, myself, when I saw the advertisements.

It amounts to how you actually work with your camera and computer – from the settings you use to take your photo, to how you get it into your computer, to how to process it. There are a lot of choices to make in this process, more than most artists are even aware of. As a visual artist, I can attest to the fact that digital-image processing can be a chore I put off. It seems likely that Joly’s strategies for making it more efficient would be useful.

Arts Underground and MEADIAsolutions anticipate many more courses for beginners as well as for more-advanced users of digital art forms.