For more than a decade, the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa fostered creativity out of a nondescript brick building on Dalhousie Street.

That era comes to an end Friday night, when the school — often known simply as SPAO — unveils its new facility on Pamilla Street in Ottawa's Little Italy neighbourhood. 

"It was time for the school to grow. We couldn't maintain the pace of growth we were [seeing] at our old space," said Jonathan Hobin, an Ottawa artist and the school's creative director.

The new location will feature laboratories, dark room space, a second-floor library and resource centre, and eventually the region's "only critical and independent photographic-specific gallery," Hobin told CBC Radio's All in a Day Thursday.

"That's really crucial, when the city has lost so many gallery spaces over the past 10 years, that we're actually giving a space back to the community," said Hobin.

"When the school itself has been producing such a high calibre of work, to have a place to actually showcase that photographic work was really important to the development and evolution of the school."

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'It motivates me'

SPAO offers a two-year diploma program, with a large portion of its revenue coming from continuing education programs and workshops on evenings and weekends.

Rajeev Nath enrolled in classes at SPAO after his wife died and he retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, and told All in a Day he's been working hard at the school to improve his portraiture skills.

"It's given me new purpose," Nath said. "It's given me a reason to get up in the morning, to be quite blunt. I find it motivates me."

The school is officially opening the doors of its new location today at 5 p.m., Hobin said, at a launch party that will also reveal SPAO's winter 2017-18 programming.

spao school photographic arts ottawa little italy dalhousie street old new

At left, Michael Tardioli and Jonathan Hobin stand in front of the new Little Italy location for the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa (SPAO). At right, the school's old Dalhousie Street location. (Giacomo Panico/CBC, file photo)

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day