There may not be a million venues to exhibit your art here but the city and surrounding area is a creative hotspot. Offering itself as the muse and its streets and space as the medium. Decay and gentrification go hand in hand and are both thriving here, there is a fine balance and a strong community of people who have devoted themselves, not only to art but to the city.
The evolving history of the rehabilitation of the waterfront and downtown core has stripped Windsor of many historical venues. The Spotted Dog, Fast Eddy’s Arcade and countless others disappeared into the rubble when the Norwich Block was demolished in 1999. One of the largest buildings on The corner of Chatham Street and Ferry Street which housed three historic bars, The Loop , The Coach and Horses and The Fish Market , closed their doors last year. The massive building along with a few surrounding buildings were purchased by Toronto Investors with no leaks of plans to develop, they remain standing untouched a year later. However other venues continue to thrive, for example, Phog Lounge on University Ave was awarded Best Live Music Venue in Canada and the owner has recently re-opened the historic Pterodactyl Lounge under the name, The Rondo. The University of Windsor and St. Clair College have taken up offices in the area and across the road The Windsor Star building has been torn down and rebuilt leaving the historical stone facade free standing as an eery reminder to what was.
In 2001, the Art Gallery Windsor returned to its former downtown waterfront site by way of a new building -- a state-of-the-art facility by which the AGW has reasserted its presence in downtown Windsor. Even still, it has reduced its collection and exhibitions to two floors and the main level has become a permanent historical exhibition of the area. Maiden Lane between Pelissier Street and Ouellette Ave with its Farmers Market has hit historical highs becoming home to huge breathtaking Murals and the location for Art Parties of equal scope and scale.
The art scene here in Windsor/Essex county, is unique not only because of its geographical location to America and seeming separation from the rest of Canada’s art scene. There are also many pockets of artists with different ideas and spaces. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Nadja Pelky (University of Windsor), “I think it's difficult to talk about the arts in Windsor as being one community - There are a number of arts communities in Windsor that I feel have very separate ideas of what an arts community is and does. I also don’t think it's necessary or even preferable to have one central cohesive arts community. I think that good things happen when people make spaces for themselves, and govern those spaces according to what suits them.”
Collette Broeder’s founder and artist at ontenpark remarks, “I continue to think artists should not whine and expect things to done for them. They should get together and do for themselves. I would like to see the artists community support the good work that has been done. Publishing the successful projects and exhibitions to spread the word. Become a resource for a creative city.”
I had the opportunity to meet and talk with some people on the ground in Windsor. Artist Nadja Pelky who runs The Emerging Artists Research Residency at The University of Windsor, as well as artists Susan Gold and Collette Broeders who run One Ten Park Studios and Sarah Beveridge owner and art dealer at SB Contemporary. All reflecting on what working in the art scene and creating art in Windsor means to them. Read the full interviews below.
TUSSLE MAGAZINE: We feel like Windsor emulates an island, a bubble and the art scene a bubble within the bubble (which I suppose can be true of anywhere) but Windsor's art scene is in a different boat with its connection to and separation from Detroit. The lack of funding and lack of institutions and privately run gallery spaces, lack of art supply stores. Can you share with us how this inspires or challenges you as an artist?
NADJA PELKY: I think its difficult to talk about the arts in Windsor as being one community - There are a number of arts communities in Windsor that I feel have very separate ideas of what an arts community is and does. I also don’t think its necessary or even preferable to have one central cohesive arts community. I think that good things happen when people make spaces for themselves, and govern those spaces according to what suits them. I think that its important to support that as well, and to cross into each other’s spaces to see what’s going on. If you only ever paid attention to the things you like or identify strongly with, then you’d be missing out on most of the world.
In Windsor there are groups of artists pursuing what they want, and in some cases that’s in dialogue with the larger cultural community, and in lots of cases it isn’t. Both are valid approaches, and in a place like Windsor there is the space to explore that. For myself its important to be in close contact with what’s happening elsewhere - to contextualize my own activities, but also in order to have the freedom to engage in what I want to engage in. As an artist/writer/administrator I need to be more mobile.
TM: Where do you find the most support for artists in the Windsor community?
NP: Windsor has three levels of arts funding, we have civic, provincial and federal here. Whether Windsor artists are well represented in provincial and federal granting programs is another matter. That’s something that needs to be advocated for by our larger arts organizations.
In terms of private support there isn’t much - there’s not a large community of collectors who focus on local artists. Windsor has very little in the way of private galleries, which makes things even more difficult. A lot of artists are represented elsewhere in cities like Detroit and Toronto.
It can be a source of real frustration.
TM: What would you like to see happen in the Windsor arts community?
NP: To extend my previous answer, I’d love to see a better collecting culture emerge here. I think that it would make way for the few commercial galleries here to mount more interesting and diverse shows - if there was stronger support from the community at large. I’d like to see the professional community take a real interest in learning about and collecting art. There’s a misconception that art is separate from the world in some way - especially in a city that relies on manufacturing for jobs and a de facto identity. That can be an obstacle to work against.
TM: You are currently directing an artist residency, may you describe the residency and how you hope it will attract artists to the Windsor area?
NP: The Emerging Artists Research Residency is new to me, I took it over from Lucy Howe who had run it for five years. The program gives artists one month of 24hr access to the School of Creative Arts facilities at the University of Windsor. Artists come from all across the country to work on projects and learn about our community and city. They spend time working alongside each other and taking trips around Windsor and Detroit. It’s so wonderful to see people come to Windsor and get interested about what happens here, and to see them experience the city and to see that manifest in the work that they produce.
I’ve worked for a few residency programs now and it’s a real privilege to see into that space - where artists are working on realizing their ideas. It’s a precarious place, sometimes that’s where things shift and fall apart or change direction. It’s energizing to work alongside the resident artists.
TM: What is it like making art in Windsor? Do you channel a different energy? Where do you go for inspiration?
NP: I think that if you are someone who makes work then it’s possible to do it anywhere. Circumstances can dictate scale and material, but approaching the world as an artist doesn’t change with geography. You make time and space as you can. You tap into what’s around. You look and process and interpret. It’s cheap to live here, and space is still cheap. I can afford to work part-time, live in a big space and maintain a separate writing and studio space. I can’t think of anywhere else where I could afford to do that without having a patron. Not that I’m not open to a patron…
TM: Are there any exhibitions that you have seen in Windsor recently or that are coming up in Windsor that have made an impression?
NP: The community is small here but there’s an international reach. One of the best things here is the Media City Film Festival which brings experimental film and video works (and the artists and filmmakers who make them!) to Windsor. That’s an amazing thing that happens here, and it really changed my perception of what is possible in a city like Windsor.
There’s also a lot of great programming from the AGW, this past year Wafaa Bilal’s 168:01 exhibition was probably my favourite. The premise of his exhibition was to replace the books lost by the University of Baghdad’ s College of Fine Arts. For each book purchased through a kickstarter campaign a blank book would be sent to whomever donated the funds. It's such a simple premise, and it makes the loss so tangible. I think we lose a lot when we assume that we can get by with the internet or that having a physical repository of knowledge is unimportant. Symbolically, it’s a beautiful, empathetic gesture he’s made. http://www.agw.ca/exhibitions/upcoming/434
TUSSLE MAGAZINE: What are the major challenges that you are facing in Windsor as the only commercial gallery? What are your strategies to overcome them?
SARAH BEVERIDGE: I moved to Windsor in 2010 and opened SB Contemporary Art in April 2011. We will be celebrating 5 years in business this year. Having lived in Windsor previously in the 90's, I knew the art community well and was excited by the opportunity to create and generate a commercial art space that would highlight the caliber of artists that live and practice here locally. I see Windsor as this hot spot for creativity; artists, writers, poets, musicians, young creative entrepreneurs are able to excel in this community. Especially with Windsor’s close proximity to Detroit and being economically affordable, it allows creative doers to also have a higher quality of life. With any new business there is risk and challenge, which is part of the package, this is also part of the excitement in any creative process. As a new gallery we continue to grow, this September we will be launching our roster of artists for the first time with a new website. This will display all of the artwork that is available for purchase by each artist. We offer a variety of art classes for adults, children, and beginners. The gallery's mandate is "create, collect, connect". I believe education is key in the development and promotion of the gallery and the arts. The more we can educate the community about the arts and culture here in Windsor the more success there will be, across the board.
TM: As an art dealer do you feel it is important for artists that you exhibit to have an international exhibition background? What other things validate artists' work and what advice do you have to artists working in Windsor to help achieve this?
SB: Many of the artists that we exhibit have shown their work on an international level and many of the up and coming, emerging artists that we feature have not. The artists that have exhibited with SB Contemporary Art come from various backgrounds and disciplines. I am always open and excited to see new artists work, discussing their practices and the possibilities of exhibition. We do a large group exhibition each year titled - 100 Artists, 100 Works, 100 Dollars. This fun and festive exhibition is a great opportunity for artists to showcase a range of different works, it is always an eclectic mix of small works representing both senior level artists as well emerging artists works. It is a great opportunity for the public to view and collect a wide range of works. For those just starting a collection of art this is an affordable way to support and become familiar with the artists in Windsor and the surrounding art community.
When selecting works of art for exhibition, I am always looking at the quality, and technique utilized in that work, but more importantly I am looking for honesty and authenticity in that artist’s creative process and practice. There has to be a real gut reaction that is difficult to explain, but it needs to dive beyond the surface level so to speak, both materially and conceptually. I believe in tenacity and if it is something you really love to do, you are going to continue to do it, no matter what, and should. My advice to artists is to connect with community, get feedback, organize critiques with peers, support the arts, and attend openings. Access the information that is within your art community; don’t be afraid to approach, ask questions, get involved and submit your work.
TM: What would you like to see happen in the Windsor art scene in the near fand distant future?
SB: Over the past few years there has been some fantastic developments and grant support for the arts in the Windsor community. We have a great art community here in Windsor and welcomed partnerships that happen within it; between the City, Arts Council of Windsor, AGW - our public gallery as well as with private spaces like SB Contemporary, One Ten Park, and artist-run centres - Artcite, Common Ground, etc. There is great unity in the art community, but what is still needed is a way in which to communicate and build a stronger awareness with the larger population. A Windsor and surrounding area,Gallery Going Guide, or a Gallery Hop that highlights and brings together all of the galleries/spaces/studios under one evening and large event. There is definitely interest and discussion that has already begun regarding these ideas and I believe both of these initiatives are very foreseeable in the near future.
TUSSLE MAGAZINE: What is your advice for artists working in Windsor?
COLLETTE BROEDERS: My advice would be to work really hard making stuff in studio! Get involved as an artist with your community. If you want something to happen, gather a few like minded people and make it happen! In Windsor that has always worked. (examples are many, Artcite Inc, Windsor Biennial, Common Ground, Media City, MayWorks Windsor, Artists for Social Justice, Broken City Lab, artists exchanges with many cities, residencies, and of course onetenpark!)
TM: What would like to see change and what are a few major challenges in theWindsor art scene?
CB: I continue to think artists should not whine and expect things to done for them. They should get together and do for themselves. I would like to see the artists community support the good work that has been done. Publishing the successful projects and exhibitions to spread the word. Become a resource for a creative city.
Keep the community working together. Don't allow it to fragment. Utilize the great new talent, skill, knowledge and goodwill that is present in community. Highlight artist run culture and Canadian best art practice in all we do. Community collaboration with artists and businesses throughout the downtown core to help create a more vibrant and creative city centre. One significant challenge is gaining media attention toward artistic projects from local news publications and/or live media.
Sublime City: Summering South of Detroit in Windsor - Essex County
August 25, 2016 By Laura Horne-Gaul