State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

More to us than lakes and docks…PART 1

Right now in my little corner of the world our population has doubled and sightings of flip flop wearing urbanites with sunburns and halter tops are ubiquitous. Really long line ups in the grocery stores are the norm, our favourite wines sell out and if we want to get the Toronto Star on Sunday we have to get up extremely early before it disappears from the box in Tory Hill; such is living as a local in rural Ontario in the summer. But the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. People from the city add to our community in infinite ways.

Cottagers allow for culture to pervade the experience. Books and a stack of magazines are essential, star charts and knowledge of their journeys an absolute, and there must be a million digital pictures of sunsets, wildlife and skies loaded into flckr everyday. Taking stock of the natural world and its gifts are discussed at great length over many brightly coloured cocktails. In my world ongoing art projects are discussed as most of my friends are creative types who labour at music, film, painting and collecting and supporting the arts. The recent long weekend was spent helping a good friend with several projects she had on the go including gluing thousands of pennies to a car.

Gary Blundell's Fuel installation at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington. More paintings and coal/heritage mining stories on at the Rails End August 17th.
Gary Blundell’s Fuel installation at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington. More paintings and coal/heritage mining stories on at the Rails End August 17th.

This week I help my partner install his art exhibit at our local, The Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre. This will be the third exhibition he has had there and each one brings rewards that only a gallery snuggled away in cottage country could. People just don’t realize who owns cottages up here or who visits. The Rails End is a very busy gallery and everyone within a hundred kilometers makes it in at some point over the summer to see what kind of art is being made here. The curator Laurie Jones does a very good job at balancing local, folk and serious work so that visitors are able to sample quality on many different levels. Having had the experience of stumbling into a small town gallery on a super hot day just to get out of the sun for a bit and finding an interesting exhibit myself, I see how elating it can be. You feel like you have discovered something secretive and magical; and because you are on vacation you are relaxed about what you are seeing. It is all good and artists miss out if they are dismissive of such places.

My partner and I decided to move here over a decade ago and we have found that making work in the forest is a perfect fit for our creative sensibilities. It is really quiet, there is tons of space, we spend most of our time outside and we can play music really, really loud and not bother anyone. (Lets face it, if you were raised on Iggy Pop, you gotta listen to him loud) But I think why we continue to find this area great for making good work is because we are not distracted. Concentration and focus being the hallmark of making anything correct; we find that these are the finest tools we have to paint, write, read, research and experiment on what we need to do.

Getting out of the city isn’t for anyone but it is a really good idea for those of us who, as my buddy at Trout in Plaid once said, ” need some elbow room”. As part of my ongoing mandate with this blog I will continue to stress that these smaller, more rural places are worthy of galleries and culture. The cottagers we have met through having art exhibitions here know this to be true, but I suspect they like that we are somehow hidden and thereby their “find”. I like that too but getting more attention does not lead directly to the destruction of something; those of us who live here and are involved in the arts get this. We know we are not Toronto and never pretend to be but we are getting more cognitive all the time of how to make that difference work. 

It does every small community well to make the boundary between them and their big city counterparts porous. We already know how great it is to live here; what is needed now is to continue to up the ante on what our city neighbours experience.

Next week: how a few new businesses in a small area can help local culture.

Read my studio’s latest hotspurnews newsletter.

Gary Blundell’s Bituminous Illuminations can be seen at the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre from August 17th to October 12th.

While cottaging or spending time outside the city check out:

Proximity Fine Art Gallery – it’s above a marina on Stony Lake, has gorgeous ceramics, paintings, glass work and textiles

Gallery in the Attic – third floor of a heritage building, has music nights on right now

Artspace – brash, fun & eccentric programming

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