Friday, 9 December 2016

Make Art Great Again: A Call to Canadian Artists to help our American Friends Destroy the Trump Train

An iconic Canadian image, Horse and Train, by Alex Coalville
modified with Photoshop for this article by Duncan Weller. 
If Trump isn’t soon ousted from office it will be time for a war effort, one in which artists and others work to prevent him and his cronies from infecting masses of people with fear, hate, bigotry, sexism, prejudice and an ideology that puts money and retarded ideas about success ahead of people, animals and the environment. 
     A number of calls for action have gone out to artists and within the calls are predictions that Trump’s presidency will foster new art movements the likes of which hasn’t been seen since before World War II. If a new art movement does occur it will be one with clear messages and imagery that connects with the public with the potential to protect individual and disadvantaged groups’ freedoms in a diverse cultural landscape where everyone should be treated equally. And it may produce great art.  
      Many American journalists, historians and politicians are proving to be correct in their assertions that Donald Trump is a potentially dangerous president like none before him. But he is only part of the equation as Vladimir Putin is salivating at the potential for more international influence, the lifting of sanctions for his incursions into Eastern Europe and the likelihood of wars in Europe and elsewhere in the process. 
     President Obama has yet to step down and Trump has already inspired hateful acts, worried foreign nations and upset their relationship with China. Internationally the extremist right around the world is reading Trump’s presidency as a vindication of all sorts of regressive acts against immigrants, minorities, women, the LGBTQ community, refugees, journalists and others. The possibility that Trump’s presidency might influence political upstarts, even here in Thunder Bay, using ugly Trump rhetoric and tactics to vie for political power is worrying and very real. 
    In our city worries about minority groups and immigrants affecting the larger group financially and culturally are unfounded and hardly worth laser focus. Our real problems involve high rent, lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs and the difficulties involved in starting a business. These are profoundly more important. But these issues and others can be ignored or played down during an election by someone cleverly Trumping other voices.  
   Artists voices needn't be silent, during an election or any other time. Artists are a strange and sensitive bunch with both great and bizarre traits. They are often at odds when it comes to their art, but what they most usually agree upon is that diversity is a plus. The freedom for an individual to express herself is fundamental to an artist. They have been known to speak out against anyone or anything that might deny a person’s ability to express themselves. Yet, as is all too human, artists fall into camps of thought, grouping themselves by their peculiarities of interest, stereotypes or ideologies that often remove them from the interests of a larger public. 
     It’s time for artists to step out of their comfort zone as this is one of those rare times when the democracy that supports and defends their divergent interests could be used against them. As faulty as democracy is, democracy really needs help from artists. Artists have to hold off on their aesthetic experiments and naval gazing that produces a subjective art for the wealthy one percent. Artists have to hold off on painting yet another barn, pretty flowers or Sleeping Giant. Cartoonists and comic book artists have to hold off or set to work their cartoon characters and superheroes on a cause greater than the comic book world. It’s time to get political. Time to get nasty and pointed in order to expose anyone spouting hatred and division. Artists have to get nasty to fight the nasty people. It’s time to stir things up with honesty and commit to positive change and action for a better world. We were on the right track with progress, as slow as it was. We can’t let everything slide backwards. 
Related Article: Trump VS Harper
   I can only imagine that as an artist you’ll enlarge your fanbase. As we artists are often known to the public for being condescendingly critical of their majority, their slow grasp or desire for change and inability to see the value in what we do. But we can win them over by doing what we’ve done best whenever and wherever democracies have allowed us to “enlarge and enhance man’s mental and moral nature.” For if we deserve to be looked up to for our ability to reflect on our inner selves and the world around us, then we should also be able to actively take part in the world that allows us our frivolities and idiosyncrasies. Rather than simply live in the world, comment on it and react to it, we can change it. We can be the artists who made things happen. How? Well, if you’re the artist. Use your imagination.
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Elizabeth Buset at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery: Swine

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery by way of the slaughterhouse to be featured in uncompromising detail in Elizabeth Buset’s solo show, Swine. 
     The bulk of this show, comprised of installation pieces with an audio element are five large oil paintings that are amazing displays of technical craftsmanship, detail, and commitment to a ongoing worthwhile political and social statement. 
     The size of the paintings, the size of the pig heads and amount of detail create a sense of awe, which you may find combines with a sense of unease. You can admire these paintings for their detail and accuracy, the use of colour, and the amazing ability of paint to mimic skin. Which is why Buset’s use of paint dissolve the surface of the paintings into reality. A painting done using other techniques, such as thick, broad colourful brush strokes would be attractive, but then the painting becomes more about technique and less about the subject. 
    High realism, although most often cold and lacking obvious dynamism has the benefit of being both admired for the workmanship while allowing the viewer to be fully engulfed, with access to the subject in glorious and gory detail in a way that no photographer could ever capture, especially on such a grand scale. Various kinds of paint, manipulated subtly by the human hand can have effects that are otherworldly. 
    While we feel sorry for the pigs and for liking the paintings despite the carnage, we also wonder at the startling contrasts that Buset has supplied for us to contemplate. The human tokens that the pigs wear are colourful and associated to activities we do for fun, creating a sort of dialogue between the pigs’ heads and the tokens. The tokens insult the respect we should have for the poor pig who gave up its life for our consumption, while the activities associated with the tokens are put into question. 
     Like a serial killer from a cop show who plays with our perceptions of what is right and wrong, Buset plays with the associations we have with popular culture. The Batman mask or Minnie Mouse bow are supposed to be fun, but placed on a dead pig’s head the fun becomes a bit of a horror show calling into question the purpose of the imagery. For Buset, that purpose is to make us think, to reflect on the kind of destruction that comes from blindly buying into a culture of mass production. 
     Buset rightly points out that it is our consumption that is destroying our planet. So hopefully, that sense of unease you feel may stay with you when you next feel the urge to consume. 
     The work Collective Guilt, which takes up a huge space along one wall is of many pig masks ordered from Shanghai. Without strings to fix the mask to a person’s head you might first wonder if the pigs’ faces were torn from their bodies. Combined in this way on the wall the faces engulf you and stare at you. You might feel guilt. You might wonder how many pigs you’ve consumed in your lifetime. Pigs are, after all, as intelligent as monkeys, smarter than dogs. Here there is a moral issue with what and how much you eat. However, the message is not only that little animal lives are being destroyed by our consumption, it is also that our lives are being whittled away piece by piece by our insatiable North American need for happy little plastic products and the ideologies associated with them supplied to us by corporations and governments who don't always have our best interests at heart. 
     So it’s wonderful to see Buset take up the very real and contemporary cause that conflict with North America’s blind run to make money as represented by Trump’s America. Buset states, “I am very satisfied with this exhibition. Everything from its creation, to display, to the conversations it has started has made every hour painting worth it.” 
    And there were a lot of hours involved. “Swine took three years, or around four thousand hours to complete. That is a lot of time to be alone in the studio. To fill the time I listen to audiobooks and podcasts, many of which were about socio-poetical ideas and observations. Creating this series was a form of research and self-education. It clarified my identity and purpose as a political artist.” 
    “I was first introduced to large scale painting during my HBFA. Painting students were asked to recreate a famous painting and I chose a work by the American Realist, Philip Pearlstein. Through that exercise I realized the physical and psychological impact of scale in art.” 
     This is Buset’s third solo show, with two previous shows held at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery. “In comparison to my other solo exhibitions I believe SWINE is my most mature and fully realized series…. Swine is unique because it is the first time I have included installation elements, printmaking and interactive art stations to help augment my content and educate my audiences.”
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Oxen of the Sun: John Books at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

Emblematic works of bronze sculptures by John Books at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery inhabit and reference the human condition in ways that are dramatic and subtle, historic and present day. You have to be a bit crazy to dedicate your life to such an intensive art form. In John’s case it’s an unending love for exploration of the medium, one that generates a sense of awe and respect for anyone who knows something of the complicated process involved. That process gives bronze sculptures the advantage of being taken more seriously over other forms of art, partly because the expense and process weed out artists who have little talent or patience. Most often works of bronze are truly great and John’s work is no exception.
      Another reason for respecting the medium is that bronzes will last for thousands of years. They immediately resonate with history. And aware of this John has added features that further deepen connections with the past. A beckoning pathway of canvas with topographical footprints stretches across the floor amongst tall ochre lichen earth coloured podiums and walls. The canvas imitates the impressions made by the first humans. The dramatic podiums encourage reflection upon the small sculptures that animate their tops. When in your hands the weight and solidity of the sculptures will take on new dimensions. Along with being encouraged to hold most of the pieces, John also welcomes photography of his works.
          John is interested in sharing his love of art as best he can and he’s particularly proud of this show, putting a lifetime of knowledge into his work so much so that he’s currently taking a breather. This is a signature show revealing a mature artist in love with life, art and literature with an endearing commitment to an exploration of the human subject with all its glories and foibles.
  After thirty years of living in Thunder Bay John now lives in Grand Marais where he continues his study. “in the past two years I have taken workshops using techniques from two thousand years ago that were used to make moulds and pour bronze.” Results of these and other process span works in the show created from 2009 to the present.   
     “I really like where this show went artistically. I feel like I stepped into myself, intellectually and as an artist. Emotionally too.” 
     The bell placed centrally in the show over the pathway is of special significance to John. “I lost a brother a year ago and always wanted to do a commemorative piece for him. For a long while it was a piece of wood I was carving. And then I made the ringer. And I thought of my brother.”
  Of the show, John says, “It was a delight that it came together. It was very satisfying.” John adds, “It looks like I’m taking a break. I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve been thinking about this show for years. I’ve been writing for the past few months and its’ been the writing that’s pulling me together. It’s not postpartum depression. It’s just breathing.”
    A good deal of equipment and tools are required when John proceeds with the 24 to 30 steps in the process from moulding a model in microcrystalline foundry wax, carving it with various tools, then applying wax “pipes” to bring the molten metal uniformly to the mould, brushing it with alcohol and varnish, dipping it into a chemical soup of ceramic material a number of times, sprinkling or rolling it in sand with a final coating of slurry that is a centimetre thick. The piece is suspended while it dries. The wax is carefully melted from the ceramic mould with a propane torch so the mould becomes hollow. The piece gets fired in a furnace at 2000 F for an hour, buried in sand or cast in resin. The bronze is melted in a furnace and poured into the cup on the top of the sculpture. When cooled the mould is removed with a hammer and chisel. It might get sandblasted, then is filed, ground, after which a wax finish and patina are applied. And be aware, this is just a harshly abbreviated version of John’s description of the process.
     John Book’s show, Oxen of the Sun runs till January 8 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. 
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Tim Boyce at Espresso Joya

     The Espresso Joya coffeehouse on Cumberland, corner to Red River Road, is currently adorned with unique and fresh paintings of solitary colourful birds perched happily, yet boldly against contrasting backgrounds inspired by the work of modernist painters. 
     Tim Boyce’s affinity for birds began at an early age growing up in Stanley and Neebing areas on the outskirts of Thunder Bay. “There was always a pair of binoculars out at the house and my mother always put out plenty of bird feeders. We had these huge windows and I would sit there for hours watching the birds,” says Tim. 
      Living in various townships can make for a solitary life for a child and can encourage a dedication to various hobbies, including drawing, which was something Tim took to immediately. Tim says, “I could zone out with drawing. It was an escape from reality when I was a kid. I wasn’t much of a painter until I went to university.” 
     There was little confusion in his mind as to where he wanted to go with his work. In the Lakehead University Visual Arts program Tim practiced and studied the fundamentals of a modernist approach brought about by his interest in Piet Mondrian, Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso. Yet he never abandoned what he calls his classical approach to painting, as seen in the kind of realist detail and stalwart poses of the birds. To paint them he works with acrylic, painting on canvas garnering imagery from nature, photos, and his imagination.
      Birds can be perennial symbols of freedom, frivolity, and life in general. In Tim’s paintings they seem to be at odds with the seemingly out of focus modernist backgrounds, which also act as a perspective trick to give the painting some depth where the paintings would otherwise appear quite flat. The backgrounds also help to make symbolic reference not only to Tim’s favourite modernist artists, but with our modern world as represented by block-like shapes and sheens of metallic iridescent colouring. “I think it’s really important to balance our natural world with urban cities of today,” says Tim describing his concerns for humanity’s need for industry at the expense of our natural world. “I hope this series expresses my feelings on these particular issues.“
   “I use the block or cube shape for symbolic reasons to mimic human urban development - a sort of natural urban reference.” Although the references are subdued and the paintings come across more readily as pretty pictures than grand statements it wouldn’t be hard for Tim to generate more interesting works by tweaking the contrasts a bit more. And this is what he is planning to do, continuing with his chosen subject and themes. 
     He does his painting in his spare time while working his day job at the Balmoral Centre of the St. Joseph’s Hospital as an addictions crisis worker, a job that firmly grounds his life in reality giving him an understanding of the frailty of human life. In fact it could be said that the birds might represent people dealing with a modern world. This might not be a stretch and a reason for Tim to find so much affinity with the subject matter.

      Having his paintings as a set backdrop for a feature film, a psychological thriller called “Poor Agnes” just last week and having sold two rather expensive, yet reasonably priced paintings from the Espresso show Tim is stoked to do more work, have more shows and explore the possibility of making a mark in Thunder Bay. He’s certainly capable and got a popular subject matter. Familiar with many of the birds traits, habits and some of the science involved in their study, Tim says. “I admire birds. They are simple yet complicated. I love that duality.”

H&R Cartoon

Pottery at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

In lieu of missing text due to Donald Trump (I got mad during the last debate and spilt a dribble of hot chocolate on my laptop that fried it), I am posting pictures for now while I wait for text to come from the Chronicle Journal. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Hardball and Riley Like Art

Michelle Krys and Amy Jones

    Are you looking for great books written by local authors? Have you thought about writing a novel? Two of Thunder Bay’s top authors are happy to talk about their work and to give us an idea of what it means to be a novelist. Michelle Krys and Amy Jones are professional authors who make a living doing what they love. (Two other local writers have just signed contracts with major publishers, and I won't say who they are, but we have two local authors who are getting advances of a hundred thousand dollars per book! And being encouraged to write more books! Think you're living in the boonies? Think again.) They are relatively young and have achieved national and even international attention. They get healthy advances and are promoted by their publishers. However, they cannot remain idle. In a business that waxes and wanes with economic and technological shifts, authors are required not only to do the research, writing, editing, worrying and time-management required to the get the book written, they also do extracurricular work to help promote their published works. 
     Michelle Krys’ fourth novel is in the hands of her agent while her third novel, Dead Girls Society, is about to be released on November 8. And with it she will do book tours in the United States and Canada. Michelle is stoked to chat about the details of her progress and the ins-and-outs of the industry. Her enthusiasm is contagious and it’s hard not to feel the glow that exudes from a truly charismatic author. 
     Michelle is keenly aware of how fortunate she is to have had so much success with her first novel, Hexed, a young adult novel about a teenage cheerleading witch.  Continued success followed with, Charmed. Michelle’s phenomenal success is unusual for a Canadian writer requiring hard work, imagination, due writing diligence and likely a bit of good luck.
      It takes quite a number of deep breaths to embark on writing a first novel, but Michelle was wise enough to get support from a collective of writer friends in both Canada and the United States. Michelle then approached over a 130 agents to find one who saw her potential. Michelle’s agent shopped her novel around and got a great deal, an amazing advance for a first time author and publicity that even established Canadian writers dream about, something she didn’t at first appreciate until the debut of he second novel.
     Getting a good book on the shelves is a long process and being an author is an ongoing full time job, not as some people assume like winning the lottery. For while her agent has a fourth novel being looked over by an editor, the publisher has to take the book to an acquisitions department where they decide what kind of offer to make after they have drawn up a risk benefit ratio to determine whether or not they can take a risk on it. “They ask, who would read it? Who would sell it? Would chain companies like them? How many would they buy? The process is huge,” says Michelle. 
     After reworking the novel for the agent and then the publisher Michelle works on a pre-order campaign to help promote the book using social media; Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and a blog.
     Michelle explains. “Once you have books out it’s important to have a cascading effect take place where interest builds for the launch of the new book, like a special websites with secret codes and special invitations with exclusive material for big fans of the books.” All of this can be a burden, but Michelle understands that it’s part of the job, something she relishes because she genuinely adores her fans. “I’m aware of how lucky I am and I love creating stories.”
      At home, Michelle slams out two thousand words whenever she gets the chance. Being a wife, a mother of two while working part-time as a NCIU nurse plays interference with being a writer, but she’s thankful for all that she has, including a good group of local and international friends to boot.
     With advice for first time novelists, Michelle says, “Hardship and dreaming are compatible friends on a path to success or failure. To much hardship could make you bitter and too much dreaming could blind you from seeing who you really are that only others can see, but are afraid to tell.” 
      Michelle sees one of the benefits of her success as encouraging others to write for themselves or to become readers, as people have told her that it’s the first time they’ve picked up a novel in years. Even at the young age of thirty-one, Michelle Krys remains practical about the chances of continuing to hold a mass audience for decades on. It’s very likely she will. “It is truly inspiring to know that all that hardship may not have been wasted after all, after all that dreaming.”
 Amy Jones says, “Whatever path you choose, nothing is going to happen overnight. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to get rejected.” Amy’s contagious smile is part of a continued high she is riding with the success of her first novel, We’re All In This Together. “Writing is the kind of thing that the more you do the better you get,” Amy adds.
     Inspiration for the novel came with both wanting to write a story set in urban Thunder Bay and wondering if anyone had gone over Kakabeka Falls in a barrel. “I felt it was important to write about a place in which you live,” says Amy. “There are a few themes I’m obsessed with. I’m interested in home and what home means for people, that conflict in wanting to stay in a place familiar to them while simultaneously wanting to leave and see what they can make of their life when leaving isn’t necessarily what they want.” Amy later adds, “I like the idea of outsiders, people who don’t fit in with their family or their city, society.”
     When asked if the characters in her novel are based on friends or relatives, Amy says, “There will always be elements of people I know. There might be a personality trait I borrow, but there’s no person that is actually connected to the story. They’re figments of my imagination.”
     Amy’s book was on a Canadian bestseller list for a few weeks after the book first came out. Already selling a second printing, Amy says, “My expectations coming going into it were pretty low.” But with critically positive reviews in Quill and Quire and the Globe and Mail she was quickly landing gigs at writer’s festivals, in Peterborough, Halifax, Word on the Street in Toronto, and a writer’s festival in Vancouver.
     The Thunder Bay Public Library has chosen Amy’s book for One Book, One Community events, an initiative where a city’s library chooses a book that everyone is encouraged to read while hosting events inspired by and related to the book.
      Amy is thankful Amy is particular in her acknowledgement of the help she’s received from her agent who acts as an advocate for the work. Amy says, “Agents will often be former editors of publishing companies, so he has an ability to see things from both sites, the marketing and business sides of things. He was able to give me advice on that, basically he does everything. He gave me the big picture to get it ready for publishers. He knew where it would be a good fit.”
     Soon Amy was talking to the editor of the publishing company who wanted revisions to improve the story’s pacing and continuity. From there the book went to a copy editor and proofer, while Amy’s agent worked with these people as a team, as he has done before on other book projects. The entire process took about a year.   
      “Writers can be perfectly fine without an agent,” says Amy. “It works very well for a lot of people, but a lot don’t need an agent to find a publisher, but for me the less I have to worry about the more I have to do my work.”      
      Amy is under a bit of pressure as she signed a contract requiring her to produce a second book for the publisher. But she’s not worried. “Ideas have never been the problem. I have too many ideas. It’s just a matter of making it all fit together. And I worry about, like, whether I’m going to write in the first or third person.” 
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

"The Teaching is the Making" at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

    Ending soon, September 4th, at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is “The Teaching is the Making” featuring the beautiful works of Leanna Marshall and Celeste Pedri-Spade. The show combines two very different approaches to reestablish and enliven First Nations culture by bringing forth the past to the present and highlights how different traditional and contemporary mediums can accomplish such a feat.
     As an Anishinabekwe from Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation, Pedri-Spade is a member of the Bear Clan. She fills the roles of mother, all round creative person, and teaches at the School of Northern and Community Studies at Laurentian University. She teaches “courses on Indigenous art, culture, photography, qualitative research and modern material culture.”
     With experience in the visual arts Celeste works with textiles and photography to explore “modern material culture” with an activist’s role in decolonization. This is an interesting and worthwhile process where a person or group researches a subject to fully comprehend the history with the intention to actively resurrect the culture from its colonial past. The extent to how this is made possible depends on what is recorded and remembered and then how much of that is viable in the present day. Cultures shift and blend, degrade and progress, so restoration in whatever manner has to be picked up again and celebrated.
      Chance, choice and change, as the Canadian historian George Woodcock noted are the preeminent determiners of history. And a major part of that change, in a very positive way, are artists willing to explore the past to reveal it afresh and possibly find new ways to celebrate a culture once targeted for extinction by an invading culture.
      Celeste’s commitment and determination is definitely felt in her photography where the images bounce between past and present. As juxtapositions with heart and soul they create a variety of endearing, somber, and reflective feeling about the passage of time and a changing world. They resonate with humanism. As we peer into someone else’s personal visual history we simultaneously wonder about our own involvement, our own history. What were our ancestor’s up to? How long were they here? From where did they come?
     A culture to be viable has to be actively performed and celebrated, seen, heard, smelt and felt by lots of people with all that can enrich an individual in a group to bind them spiritually with their kin and friends. Such is the case with Leanna Marshall’s work where the jingle dresses sitting in a gallery are a treat to have available for close inspection, are typically put to use, but here Leanne intends for them to be something more than dresses.
     Leanna Marshall has been making jingle dresses since 2006. As Leanna describes. “My jingle dresses or ‘story dresses’ as I like to call them are from a project called Ziigiidwin, meaning love.” And the dresses show it. Although not ceremonial, they have that aliveness to them, replete with fascinating colour and a sense of mystery about them. The dresses stand as if they are speaking or just ready to make music.
     “The inspiration for Ziigiidiwin came from an awareness of the anger that I was feeling. It was around this time that my mother spoke at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I realized that the anger that I have carried with me my entire life was the outcome of colonial, sexist, & racist policies, the Indian Act, residential schools, and Bill C-31 that govern First Nations people in Canada; and how the effects of the policies trickles down into people's lives in very real and very tragic and sad ways.”
     “My people carry a lot of pain and suffering that is directly because of policies created and enforced by the Canadian government and by mainstream society that live behind and within a colonial context. That is why I feel angry... because of the suffering and the sadness within my own family; and within myself.” 
      Leanna began making jingle dresses since 2006. As part of the Anemki Art Collective she worked with Jean Marshall and Christian Chapman who both contributed to the project. The audio component to the exhibition tells the stories of the dresses. In them you will “hear the love, the pride, the joy, the strength, the relationships, the language and the land.”
    Describing one particular dress with the title, ‘She Swims with the Fishes,’ Leanna states that the dress honour “the women murdered on the ships and where bodies have been placed in Lake Superior. Importantly, this dress explores how men view Indigenous women and the historical context in which Indigenous women have been and continue to be devalued.” 
      Leanna isn’t referring only to history, but to what is an ongoing tragedy in Canada.  Visit the CNN website and search for a story that came out a few days ago titled: ‘Canadian Teens Sold for Sex.’
      Leanna continues. “I don't see the dresses as ‘art objects.’ For me they each have a spirit, they came from somewhere and they will continue to travel forth. The women who dance in these dresses when the show is complete will continue the stories and the healing. In artworld speak all of the dresses are ‘wearable art.’ We chose deliberately not to do a 'performance' because of the intent and spirit of the dresses wasn't to entertain. They were created to heal, share, inspire, and connect."

Friday, 19 August 2016

Diversity in the Arts as Expressed in the Bar and Restaurant Scene.

 Recently the Tate Modern in London expanded in a way that left critics wondering if the additions were designed solely to attract tourists and not out of historical precedent. The interactive and educational advances of the Tate are part of the current reflection in the art world regarding the value of the traditional gallery. Much of the art in galleries never gets a second glance, the average painting or sculpture about three seconds of attention. This has left many in the art world wondering if art can be more relevant if taken out from the gallery and into the community.
    Sadly the obvious never occurs to the hoi polloi fine art supporters that art already exists outside of the gallery. It’s called popular art/culture. Contemporary galleries host mostly fine art, which comes with a totally different set of functions. And it seems that the hipsters are not hip to it, referring to contemporary art as "philosophy on the walls." On Reddit, artists bemoan the fact that for all the supposed progressive thinking displayed on the site there is more ignorant hostility to the contemporary art which they find dismaying. 
     Popular culture has its drawbacks with its primary problem being that of equal representation. Although popular culture is improving there remains a world where stereotypes abound and diversity is not often considered. A wonderful series like Netflix's Marco Polo features only a couple Caucasian actors amongst dozens of Asian, Arab and Indian actors. This is very rare. Television is only beginning to represent the LBGTQ community or admit to human foibles explored more often by contemporary artists and writers. If there is one thing that contemporary art does well it is in its egalitarian mission to allow for diverse voices often at the expense of quality, but not without a lack of great honesty, commitment, experimentation or creativity. 
     Changes are happening rather quickly in the popular culture world as the appetite for honest representation of human life continues to find a bigger audience. Our prejudices are breaking down and we are fascinated by the multiple angles now taken up in stories that were once otherwise uncomplicated by reality. It’s a reality that not even Shakespeare could handle. The paragon of animals is far more complex than we ever imagined.   
Onur Altinbilek of Black Pirates Pub
     So who would have thought a bar or a restaurant might come to the aid of contemporary artists and expand their reach into the community? In a community that is typically blue collar there is enough of a population in Thunder Bay to harbour a great diversity of people, but not so big that groups of people with different interests, different make-ups, can find public spaces where they can share their interests and readily express themselves, share stories and empower themselves.
     In 2008 Onur Altinbilek was co-founder of Black Pirates Pub. He became the sole owner in 2014, and from the beginning ran the space as a live entertainment venue focusing on local and touring entertainment, including bands of all stripes, drag shows, burlesques, cabaret, fashion shows, art performances, movie nights, video and more. Right from the start BPP has been supporting the local music and arts community. “It’s a community I’m proud to be a part of,” says Onur. 
     On any night the diverse make up of an audience is apparent and the the freedom to be who you are and to be with likeminded people goes without saying. But it wasn't long ago when cliques and prejudices abounded, where a gay man would have a difficult time letting himself go in Thunder Bay. Now cross-dressing and transgender sorts can have a ball with supportive straights and the guys from the Mill who when asked how they feel being amongst such diverse people simply reply. "So what?" Or, "Really, I couldn't give a f...."
     Having worked at Jacks, a restaurant that shut down a few years ago, Onur has always been connected with the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, which has sought out venues in the North Core to fundraise, expand opportunities for artists, improve business for everyone downtown and to essentially liven up the city. “I love what Dave and Renee do for the arts community, for the visual arts and the music scene,” says Onur as he unloads the mega pack of raw chicken he’s going to cook for the throng of people who will show up a few hours later. He adds, “It’s little known that they’ve (DEFSUP) even given some bands gas money so they could get to the next gig.”
       The big event in the North Core is The Hunger, a Halloween event in October. It’s less artistic than say, Urban Infill in which artists and models parade artistic statements made into fantastic costumes, but there is creativity galore that comes with the event where young people get to work planning and building their costumes months in advance. BPP and other restaurants get involved in the Hunger, Urban Infill, and the but it is BPP that keeps the contemporary ball rolling with multiple events throughout the year, like the Derelicte fashion show where artists run a catwalk with fabulous creations that are also personal artistic statements.    
      “There’s no stone unturned. We try to cater to every group within the community, which is why we do drag shows, metal shows, punk shows. We’re basically the home for the punk and metal bands, and we do the local festivals and fundraisers,” says Onur.
     Referring to Thunder Bay Onur states, “We cater to everybody, whereas in a big city you go to one place for one thing and another place for another thing. But if you got to BPP you can go to a different kind of show all the time. Places like ours have to cater to everyone. I see myself as a piece of the puzzle in the community where there‘s a lot of collaboration. Collectively everybody downtown has made it come alive. We’re one of the older ones here, and I’m happy to still be doing it. It’s still exciting.”
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.