State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

My 2012 ‘way cool’ list

Here is my year end list of stuff that made 2012 ‘way cool’ for me and I hope it highlights some people, places and things that you should explore if you haven’t already. There is a lot of stuff going on in the arts outside of Toronto and a lot of it is pretty darn great.

In no particular order:

Trout in Plaid

Run by the wry and imaginative artist Annie Jaeger whose educated tastes makes this little art blog and aggregate of things in Peterborough and surrounding area great for many reasons. It is well organized, well written, well researched, and the design is every bit as cool and great as any big timey art blog out there. The Trout is also desperately needed since those of us who have settled beyond the GTA get nearly a mention in any mainstream press. Rural local media will only place promotional pieces regarding the arts in their pages; there is no critical engagement. Please check out the Trout and sign up, you will be delighted by it’s grounded, smart and witty aesthetics.

Agnes Jamieson Gallery

The Agnes Jamieson Gallery is a little rural gallery in Minden with big ambitions. This year it’s programming included Elaine Carr, Tony Cooper, Rod Prouse and Mary Anne Barkhouse. While I had issue with some of its curatorial ideas, its reach is to be admired since there are actually art lovers who ‘get it’ up here. If it continues on this track it should become a bigger player in our great white north.

Laurie Jones, Curator/Director Rails End Gallery

Every thought that running a quaint little gallery in a small cozy town would be just heaven? Think again. Laurie Jones, a fine painter in her own right, helms a gallery that is pulled in many directions: renovations, a demanding town council, members with lots of opinions on how things should be done, children’s programming and a professional gallery with designs for great standing with the powers that be. Jones seems to be successfully juggling all of it. It is a popular destination with thousands of visitors a year and attendance that most remote galleries only dream of. More importantly however Jones is upping the ante with some challenging programming and things like catalogues – stuff that is always a welcome surprise to city types when they rent a cottage and decide to check out the local gallery.

The Encampment, Luminato Festival

Director Thom Sokoloski brought his wildly successful Encampment installation to Toronto this year after touring it around the world. I include this because it seems to be inspired by a world beyond the urban realm. Two hundred tiny tents, each with a micro installation by local artists and sun powered lamps that slowly light up during twilight, the image of which sends shivers up your spine, was placed in Fort York in order to commemorate the War of 1812. Some of the installations were wonderful, each based on stories about the war. But mostly the entirety of the installation looked magical. Surrounded by condos and the Gardiner at night you felt as though you were time travelling and suddenly coming upon a moment of exquisite calm. One of the best outdoor art exhibits I have ever seen in this country.

Liz Fennell, Annie Jaeger, Carolyn Code and their Gallery in the Truck this past Artweek in the Pete. '.
Liz Fennell, Annie Jaeger, Carolyn Code and their Gallery in the Truck this past Artsweek in the Pete’.

Peterborough

If you haven’t spent any time in this eastern city settled on the Otonobee River with 19th and early 20th century architecture you are missing something. This year alone Peterborough began to split at the seems with its music, art events, restaurant and cafe openings – all with the panache of smart people who want to make good art but choose not to live in Toronto. It is still affordable to live here and artists are not getting turfed from their studios. Trout in Plaid is based here. Liz Fennell, curator for the Little Red Hen collective which houses the Gallery in the Attic runs a constant vibrant scene. Artspace, is one of the country’s oldest artist run centres directed by the indefatigable and friendly Fynn Leitch. Artsweek, a festival in September, includes many of the amazing local eateries and drinkeries that make the Pete’ awesome. Along with some pretty amazing artists who’ve made their home here, everyone also seems to be on Twitter which is ‘way cool’ to this blogger!

Group of Seven

I can hear the groaning now. Yes, I realize that since the G7 have been national icons for several decades now artists across the country have made denouncing their importance as a hobby. What do they have to do with our urbanized, multi-cultural present day circumstances? Can’t we just get over the white guy, landscape thang? One reason we shouldn’t: the Group were essentially a small town phenomenon. Toronto was once the size of Lindsay and that is when these guys were painting and deciding to document the ‘wilderness’. There is still much more ‘wilderness’ than there are people in this country, a fact that is not lost on multinational corporations. A fact that should alarm people who voted for Stephen Harper. I think art made during the growing pains of a nation that highlighted its resource bounty fits exactly into the current advocacy debate surrounding pipelines and tar sands. An international tour this year that broke records, brought back to the McMichael Gallery lets us reacquaint ourselves with painting, landscape and the many wonders that make our country ripe for poaching by the international business community.

The Visual Arts Centre of Clarington

Tucked away in an odd little corner of Bowmanville off the 401 this former mill has one of the more intriguing spaces around. The third story loft with its raw original beams and aged concrete walls is a dream room for any artist. The first floor exhibition space is also no chump with wooden floors and white brick walls. Run for years by the erudite and lovely Maralynn Cherry its curator and chief is now the effervescent James Campbell. The staff is as hard working and meticulous as you could find anywhere. With a record of exhibiting an eclectic array of artists from sound sorcerer Jan Kamevaar to found object wizard Wendy Trussler the Clarington is a bountiful arena for thought provoking art. And it’s just an hour from downtown TO! It takes longer to get to the Yorkdale mall on a Saturday.

The Diefenbunker

This museum in farmy Carp just outside of Toronto is an underground ‘Day The Earth Stood Still’ memento. The Cuban Missle crisis inspired this warren of offices, hospital clinics, cafeterias and sleeping quarters all with Canadian 1962 design touches. Lots of orange for instance. Call it nostalgia, call it cold war aesthetic obsession but walking around under the earth in a place that was made for the prime minster and his cabinet while the rest of the country gets blown to smithereens touched all the right notes for me; from WTF? to this is ‘way cool’. It might be a tad silly for the list but it was a gallery going highlight for me this year.

Next week will be my last 2012 blog with a look forward. State of the Arts will then return in 2013.

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