Fledgling art collective looks to take flight

Peggy Revell

The ball is starting to roll to establish an art collective for Rainy River District.
“We’d love to have more people coming out,” said local musician Carson Webber, who was one of a dozen locals who came out Saturday for a workshop at the Fort Frances Museum to discuss how to create an art collective for this area.
The initiative stems from the Ontario Crafts Council’s goal to improve support for artists and crafters throughout Northern Ontario, which included sponsoring Saturday’s workshop.
The biggest benefit to an art collective is the ability to raise awareness about the arts, noted Webber, as well as give artists the chance to network and showcase their talents to the community.
“We have a lot of local talent in the area,” he remarked. “There is a lot of talent, but not a lot of people know it.
“Even the artists themselves, they don’t really know.”
But a “community of artists” is something that doesn’t exist right now in the district, Webber explained.
Yet compared to his home city of Vancouver, Webber said this area sees a lot less competition amongst artists—and the rural attitude about life and climate “seems to encourage teamwork and togetherness because we all live here together.”
“And it feels like there’s a strong sense of community here, and we’re just trying to extend that to artists,” he reasoned.
Saturday’s meeting saw the group brainstorming possible names for the collective, as well as projects it could start off with and how to promote itself within the community and bring in more members.
“A lot of people are artists but they don’t know they’re artists,” said Webber, noting the collective is open to not just artists but anyone interested in promoting the arts within the community.
“There’s so much work to be done,” he stressed. “It’s not just about painting pictures and playing guitar and stuff like that.
“[People] can help out in a lot of different ways.”
“We’re really excited about what’s happening in Fort Frances,” said Kenora artist Irene McCuaig, who is a past chair of the Lake of the Woods Art Council (LOWAC).
McCuaig, along with fellow Kenora artist Laurie Dufresne, the visual arts chair for LOWAC, drove down for Saturday’s meeting to outline how it formed four years ago.
Since LOWAC’s inception, the group has been involved with numerous community projects, including public art displays, art education, gallery tours, and fundraising for charitable causes.
“It’s just tremendous to see another collective get going—and we look forward to doing something together in the future,” said McCuaig.
“It’s nice to see the enthusiasm,” echoed Dufresne, who noted their organization has benefitted not just artists but the whole community.
“LOWAC is a recognizable name in the community now, not just with artists but with non-artists, as well,” she explained.
“There’s been a growing appreciating of the arts as a result, and people do keep coming.
“Other organizations and groups know that we’re here and are approaching us,” she added. “That just implies that we are recognized and appreciated.”
Dufresne also said she hopes to see all the communities in Northwestern Ontario grow and develop art collectives like Kenora has, along with the partnerships that can grow from this.
“I was very excited to hear what Kenora is doing,” said Fort Frances Museum curator and writer Sherry George, citing LOWAC projects like the “two by two” artwork shown along the riverfront there, snow sculpture competitions, and art gallery tours.
“Those things are all great events, and it involves the entire community and all age groups and all the different disciplines,” she remarked, saying it’s clear this district could be “doing so much more” when it comes to promoting the arts.
“I think this is just a great opportunity for all creative types to come together.
 “We need to support each other, and to glean ideas off of each other and just celebrate our similar needs and the various interests that everybody has,” George reasoned, noting that it’s part of the museum’s role as a cultural centre to support artists.
“I’m hoping that the community is going to become involved in this—it’s not just for Fort Frances,” she added, stressing that in order for a collective to work, it needs the support and collaboration from the whole district.
Those interested in learning more about the art collective can contact local artist Lindsay Hamilton at 275-7680 or via e-mail at lindsay@lindsayjoyhamilton.com