State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Wind, rain, snow – it’s spring in Ontario

A curator of a publicly funded gallery recently told me how the gallery had been designed without regard for the very brisk and frequent northerly winds that would blast past the front door making the opening of the door at times difficult and if you were quite elderly or handicapped impossible. She marveled at the thinking that went behind a design that did not take the geographic location of where the gallery was into account. “I’m going to put that front door in the sun and away from the wind if it’s the last thing I do.”

This may seem a small, odd thing to vex over but in fact it speaks to an enormous issue of how the arts are placed and contextualized in different geographic regions. In northern towns weather plays a huge role in how people attend art. Unlike Toronto you can’t jump into a cab if it is raining or hop on a subway if it is snowing – you most likely have to drive to an art related event. Mapping out how the arts is exhibited and performed always comes with a seasonal strategy and in small places or non-urban places seasonal is everything.

This is why art needs to be considered in an area’s basic planning considerations. And why you seldom find art galleries in big box retail areas. Engaging with art isn’t just a retail experience; it is a community event in many ways and people should be able to move easily from dinner to art thing to après art activities as easily as possible. We now live in the urban art festival age and the public is as impressed by the ease with which they can partake in art as much as the art itself. Making it easy, fluid and generally well planned is essential to getting people to enjoy their experience with art, hence my curator’s concern that her community thinks it is always windy and awful where the art gallery is.

From the Sudbury project We Live Up Here; a photo based book & site devoted to dispelling myths about northern culture.
From the Sudbury project We Live Up Here; a photo based book & site devoted to dispelling myths about northern culture.

I found myself in many conversations about this kind of thing in recent trips to the near north. Both Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie are vying for a renaissance period where art engagement moves their communities closer to sustainable support for the arts. Funding has become a far trickier game in recent years with no one quite knowing what the future holds; are municipalities going to shoulder the responsibility for financing the arts? Is crowd funding really our new funding model? And if so, can someone please explain to me that crowd funding is a good thing and not the most depressing thing in the whole world. It’s more than a cyber tin cup right?

This discussion brings me to the town of Minden near to where I live. Minden is a small town just off the Hwy35 north of Lindsay. The Gull River flows right through the centre of town making it a jolly place in the thick of summer as people float through the town aloft on various shaped buoyant devices. Minden has a cultural centre with a really, really nice gallery, two taverns, Thai food, several ice cream places, two excellent luncheonettes, and lots of very cool people who make the town a great place to visit. In the last two weeks Minden had a flood that tore people’s shorelines apart, spread over the entire downtown area and wreaked havoc on residents and businesses. The Gull River is still strikingly swollen as I write this, some two weeks after the rain and first rising waters.

Dowtown Minden, still open for business even though the signage doesn't inspire.
Dowtown Minden, still open for business even though the signage doesn’t inspire.

No less than two new businesses are in the process of getting ready to open their doors this month in Minden. Both businesses will highlight local artists and have strong creative culture tie-ins to the community. Both think they can thrive by making the main street in Minden a cultural hub. The flood hasn’t dampened (oy, I can’t believe that I and every other writer in the county is using that word) their spirits or goals of being ready for business on the all important long weekend in May. The people of Minden and the surrounding county have come out in droves to support this busy centre; always gratifying in this deeply cynical age we live in.

I believe that what will get Minden back on its feet and able to renew its strengths is its hectic cultural life. This is because Minden has been laying down the roots of such dynamism. Art and its surrounding off shoots such as cafés, boutiques, festival etc. all work toward creating energy. These new businesses, a great exhibition roster at the gallery for the year, a new cultural planned direction and a stronger sense of place created by the many interesting people who live there are foundations from which a stronger community can grow.

It is always art that helps define these smaller communities and their successes rest on art being woven into the fabric of the matrix that make a place a destination. Art can also resuscitate a place as well as help a place reemerge from disaster. Weather will continue to play a huge role in northern places as our Earth warms and we rural types are on the front lines of dealing with it. That is why a community that makes culture a focus will have an easier time rolling with the unpredictability and indifference of natural forces.

Please help the town of Minden and donate generously. Cheques should be made out to Township of Minden Hills and indicate it is a donation for flood victims.  Send it to 7 Milne Street, PO Box 359. Minden, Ontario. K0M 2K0
705-286-1260 ext. 200

Pic from We Live Up Here website, great galvanizing idea for a smaller community.

Pic of Minden courtesy Michael Bainbridge.


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