“I Will Not Grow Old In Peterborough” … Or maybe I will: Artspace Turns 40

artspace outside

Photos by Pat Reddick

There is something about Peterborough that only people who have lived here can understand. Everyone who has lived here has left at some point in time.

Peterborough pushes people away and when people leave they swear they will never come back. But they do because there is something about Peterborough that only people who have lived here can understand. Peterborough is home.

Whether you’ve grown up here or moved here, Peterborough is home and the vibrant arts scene and the animated community that is found here cannot be found anywhere else.

40 years ago, Peterborough was a very different place with little to no arts community. A few individuals took it upon themselves to change that.

Co-founders Dennis Tourbin and David Bierk found their way to each other and out of that came Artspace, located for the first time at 440 Water St. where “if too many people stood on the first floor, it sagged,” laughed Joe Stable, curator for Artspace in 1974.

Once the artists had a place to meet, the centre grew from there, taking on a life of its own. Now at their ninth and largest location, the sense of community is just as strong as it was 40 years ago. The celebration that took place at on Friday November 7 was in true Artspace fashion.

“We wanted to do something that wasn’t a traditional gallery exhibition,” says Jon Lockyer, Director of Artspace.

wall writing

David Bierk once wrote “I will not grow old in Peterborough because old Peterborough is a pain in the ass.” The irony in this statement became the basis of the evening.

“I think this was written in Daivd’s early years. David wasn’t from Peterborough, he was American. It seems like a lot of people in Peterborough end up coming from somewhere else. He came here I think because he saw something in the city, and through thick and thin he did end up growing old in Peterborough.

“There was a time where he stopped being the young guy in town. He had a family here and made his life here and died here. So the quote can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. That was where the theme for the 40th came out of,” explains Lockyer.

Over the past 40 years Artspace has become a stronger and stronger force in this community, supporting and discovering talented artists. One thing that has set Artspace apart from other art galleries is its commitment to the artist and their needs.

“These walls have been painted over so many times,” says Andrea Kotelas, curator of the poster exhibit in gallery two. Artspace has always opened its walls up to artists, and now it has opened its walls to the community.

David Bierk’s son Alex Bierk, who is also an accomplished painter, painted a re-creation of his father’s note as the installation for the 40th anniversary. This mural not only captures the essence of Artspace, but also commemorates his father and co-founder.

The mural reads “I will not grow old in Peterborough because old Peterborough is a pain in the ass” and is highlighted on the front wall of Artspace, leaving two walls as a blank white canvas for people of the community to leave their art and remarks about Peterborough, Artspace, or anything else that comes to mind.

old peterborough

The gallery was full of people on Friday night all excited about being allowed to draw on the walls, something we are taught against all our lives.

I think this speaks great volumes as to what Artspace represents. This centre has pushed the limits of convention over these past 40 years and this art installation by Bierk illustrates that they will continue to keep pushing.

“This has transcended two generations of a family, 40 years of a gallery, and an entire community,” says Lockyer.

This installation is an opportunity for community members to share their Peterborough in a way that is not always possible. “You can read this quote however you want to read it,” says Lockyer.

Artspace is driven by its community and by having the community become a part of Artspace, by allowing people to draw on the walls with no rules or regulations, no yes’s or no’s, with no set of guidelines seems the most fitting way to celebrate.

Here is some of what Peterborough had to say:

“1974 Thank you Artspace, I made it back to the future.” (see the cover)

“40 years the feeling of looking into a Chris MacGee light box.”

“People go there to die.”

“If it was going to happen it was going to happen here. If I was going to do it I was going to do it here.”

“Few Knew Artspace.”

“Goblins are solitary creatures that do not meddle in the affairs of others.” (accompanied by a photo of goblin.

“I always wanted to write on the wall and now I can because ARTSPACE”

“Many a drunk night.”

“Arthur was here <– Nice Masthead.”

the walls small
Click photo for a larger size (the text should be legible!)

To accompany the mural, Artspace’s board of directors, volunteers and members of the Peterborough arts community put together a special limited edition chapbook.

“We wanted to do something we haven’t done before where people can take something home with them that reflects this place and this history,” says Lockyer. The 28-page book is a collection of images from Artspace’s archives and is presented in a non- linear format.

The book is an art piece rather that a concise history or a chronology. It does not start in the 70’s and end in the 2000’s but rather is a mix of everything. “We wanted to represent all four decades equally,” explains Lockyer.

The book has companion writings, very short pieces from people who have been involved with Artspace in some way over the last 40 years, such as people who worked or volunteered there, as well as members.

These shorts are reflections of what this space has meant to them while they were involved and since they have moved on.

There are only 100 books printed, and they are being sold for $40. Each book is numbered and has been hand bound by the Artspace board members. Book #1 was presented at the celebration to Alex Bierk as a thank you for his contribution.

While all the excitement of the champagne toast and the wonderful speeches was happening in the main gallery, that wasn’t where the excitement stopped.

Back in gallery two there is a poster exhibition curated from the archives and put together by Andrea Kotelas. “There are a lot of pieces from the 70’s when the movement was strong,” says Kotelas. “These were things that I thought caught the spirit of the centre.”

old posters

Artspace has extensive archives and to be able see a part of the past is incredible.

Along with the poster exhibit one of Artspace’s board members Steve Blair has made a homemade printer with a big yellow button. When the button is pressed, a note from the archives is printed.

“From the guestbooks: thank god it’s over, I thought it was a permanent exhibit,” is an example of the sort of things that can be printed.

For not wanting to grow old in Peterborough, Artspace hasn’t ventured too far. Starting out on Water St. and landing on Aylmer, this centre continues to challenge artists and challenge the convention of what art is.

“I just want to thank everyone who has walked through one of our nine different doors over the last 40 years,” says Lockyer.

About Caleigh Boyle 32 Articles
Caleigh Boyle, double major in English Lit and Cultural Studies is passionate about the arts, words—both spoken and written—and can often be found at Chapters buying more journals than she needs.