Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Whole Lotta Art Going On: Tour the Thunder Bay Art Scene

     Multiple requests have come in to cover art related activities; shows, moves, events and fundraising campaigns. So, we suggest that on a sunny summer day like today you spend the afternoon visiting our major galleries and see the works of many dozens of artists. Talk to their representatives to get the scoop and scope out your favourite works. 
     The Thunder Bay Art Gallery has four wonderful shows running till September 14. Local yet worldly, Julie Cosgrove has a show titled, Nowhere is a Place, which features large acrylic paintings that will sweep you up into them as she plays with “geographic concepts” mixing the familiar with the abstract. This work is a clever cross between Toni Onley’s spaciousness and the space/ time trip at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Geography, technology, and beautiful landscapes mix to tweak your imagination that will send you to a place that is either familiar or far out.
     PUSH: Contemporary Glassworks features nine artists who stepped out of their comfort zone and experimented with new approaches to working with glass. Done through a mentorship program the aim was not only to create stunningly original works, but to search for new paths and approaches to their work. The show celebrates that act as much as the individual pieces.
     The illustrious Benjamin Chee Chee’s collection of works features his more divergent traits for which we are not accustomed. This is a refreshing focus on the more experimental and playful abstract works where the subject matter is limited and the focus in on colour and form. Despite the lack of subject matter, there is an awful lot of movement and spirit to the pieces bringing them to life, as much as any depiction of an animal that we expect to see.

     From across Canada and representing Thunder Bay, are the works in Moving Metal, where thirteen silversmiths from across Canada display the skills inherited from pre-Confederation times to create vibrant and stunningly fresh little pieces that are definitely worth stealing. But don’t do it! The rest of Thunder Bay deserves to see what can be done within the apparent limitations of having only a six-inch sterling silver disc to work with.
     Put on your French beret! Bring your hipster beard. It’s time to head down to the Definitely Superior Art Gallery’s opening fiesta this Friday at 7pm for three shows.          
     The 26th Annual Members show will feature, as it always does, great variety. Professional and novice artists strut their brushes and will try to stretch your imagination with “eclectic and experimental works.”
     Then enter the art cave with Die Active Youth Collective celebrating its 6th year of stunning success. These young members are painting the walls of Gallery II. It’s sure to be a blast for the eyes and a cross of funk and charm with a little bit of the disturbing to add an edge to the work or works or whatever it is that spills out of their crazy minds. Bring your camera! You’ll want to take a selfie with a crazy cool backdrop.
     A series of video screenings will take place in Gallery 3 featuring three internationally prominent artists. The videos, art pieces in themselves, explore urban artists who play with new approaches and techniques. Videos like these bring an alternative world of art to the Thunder Bay scene.
     A stroll down to the Baggage Building at Prince Arthur’s Landing will bring you to the current show of the Lakehead Visual Art Group. They’re ganging up on local themes, diversifying their technique like never before and offering a variety of works that are both unique experiments and comfortable favourites. There are a number of striking pieces that will make you a fan. And you know that one wall in your living room that looks empty? You can always fill it with something by a local artist.
     Likewise, diversity is paramount at Gallery 33 on Court St. across from the Thai Kitchen. This large gallery with its penny floor offers up new work on a regular basis, featuring many beautiful landscapes, floral works, doe-eyed fairies, skeletons, figure and portrait works, collage, and on and on.
     And if you haven’t heard of the new development, which is a big change for Louise Thomas, owner of the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, it is her move to the Picture Store on Red River Road, just down from the Waverly Library. First Nations Art is featured and beautifully displayed in a high salon fashion from floor to ceiling featuring established artists and new and upcoming artists. Louise is available from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
     Have a great arty summer!


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Creating Unique Identifiers in Small Cities: The Value of Creativity

     Thunder Bay, more than many other small cities in Canada is uniquely interesting, a worthwhile home for those who live here, and identifiable from other cities due to history, way of life, and geography. Those used to the variety of choices offered in Toronto may not agree, but we have the benefit of getting to places without the traffic and huge swaths of suburbs to drive through with the added exorbitant cost of real estate that are a problem in big cities. And although Walmart, McDonalds, Tim Hortons, and Shoppers are certainly convenient in any city, they don’t add much to a city’s culture. Neither does commercialized national or American media, whether radio, TV, movies, etc. or international fashion or the fads generated by pop-stars or Greenwich Village
     Of course it seems impossible for a smaller community to compete with the onslaught of these outside influences in order to develop a unique culture. Certainly mass culture is fun, but that doesn’t mean we have to look, act, think, dress or smell like everyone else in North America. It is possible for us to be unique, unique to our own way of doing things and unique to what we wish to celebrate in our city and surrounding area.
     This is where artists can contribute dramatically to our community, not only by celebrating those aspects of our culture that we already have, but also by adding to it.
     Artists of all stripes, including writers, craftspeople and musicians, are like comedians who make us laugh because they see the world from a sideways perspective. They can be critical, but they also add dramatically to the way we view ourselves and provide something new.
     Artists do much more. They can make us fall in love with new ideas and unique visions. This includes some false starts, like a couple sculptures at Prince Arthur’s Landing and unique road designs, including strangely placed bicycle lanes, but it also includes great architectural works, inspiring murals and new park developments. There will be no real agreement as to what is truly beneficial, but it’s better than living in a static community where everyone is afraid of change.
     “Progress” and even the word “art” has negative connotations for a lot of people. But if Thunder Bay wants to keep its young people here, if it wants to survive, we need to create our own fun world in which to live. It’s good for our brains, morale, and diversifies the economy.
     Various reports have been laid on local politicians and business people’s desks which make great claims for the benefits of art and how economically valuable it is for us to create what can be summed up as “unique identifiers,” meaning what is unique to us, informed by worldly experiences and transformed into something we can experience locally without the expense of travelling.
     Local artists as much as local farmers and business people can create pride in what is necessary for us to be happy, and necessary to draw people to the community, whether as immigrants or visitors. When you can smell pride, like a Country Market pie, you feel the benefits.
     It’s okay to be proud of being simple and not extravagant. Americans, from a Canadian perspective can be so full of pride they need a special kind of deodorant. There’s nothing wrong with our interest in our wanting the simple life, but only in small doses, because if we relish our simplicity too much it will make us lazy, ignorant and boring. We need pride in Thunder Bay, but not the false pride where we love what is ugly over what people have worked hard to make beautiful, or to stop people from trying something different.
      We need memory builders, interesting life experiences that we can collect as if we were travelling elsewhere. When we travel we talk about our food experiences, the entertainment we’ve experienced and the objects and places unique to the location that make for an adventure. We have to find and develop our own character as a city, either by reaching into our past, celebrating unique individuals such as philanthropists, brave firemen, inventors, famous hockey players, good politicians, good business people, teachers, artists, etc.

     Some locals have the opinion that too much money is being spent on the arts, that money should go to repaving roads and suchlike, but Thunder Bay spent thirty years doing little to diversify its economy, relying primarily on a resource based industry. Investing in the arts and beautification is actually much more important as an economic generator than even local artists realize. And it’s fun.