The small city of Peterborough, Ontario is one of a kind. It’s a thriving student city with a culture based on unity and community living. Peterborough can also be seen as a metaphor; an artwork that is undeniably underrated. Peterborough is a beautiful canvas that subtly demonstrates the soul of Canada. The artwork in Peterborough is in the streaming colours that allow expression of all sorts of topics such as politics, sexuality and the environment. Its accessibility to the public allows for a transparent, interactive art show shared by residents.
In these aspects of its urban makeup, Peterborough has created a space for artists to express themselves. Ongoing cycles of displays at art galleries and cafes essentially make it a free-for-all for to artists to experiment, thrive, and to catch the eye of interested buyers. The art scene in downtown Peterborough is a great place to start appreciating the work of local and international artists. With a focus on the Peterborough Café district around Hunter Street, Arthur has been exploring some of the quirks that make art spaces in Peterborough a wonderful interactive experience, beginning with the one and only Art Space.
Founded in 1974, Art Space is a non-profit organization that has been a platform for local artists to display their modern art.
With a mission statement to “foster a stronger appreciation for Canadian contemporary art,” this space changes according to the needs of the artist to create the ideal area to demonstrate their work, thus creating an interactive space for viewers to learn more about the artists and the pieces. Art Space as an establishment seeks not only to display and inform the public of local artists’ work, but also to create a space where dialogue between modern artists with various cultural and political perspectives can occur.
Artspace has the benefit of partnerships with major institutions such as Trent University, gathering different parts of the community for the sake of art. In collaboration with Trent University, Art Space is hosting a trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Friday February 10th, to view the show Toronto: Tributes and Tributaries, 1971-1989 curated by Wanda Nanibush, Assistant Curator of Canadian and Indigenous Art. $25 covers a round trip to Toronto and admission to the AGO, and you can register at Art Space at 378 Aylmer Street North.
At the moment, the space is hosting the sculptural and textile work of Omar Bardin, who will be speaking at the closing reception at Art Space on Friday, February 17th. Bardin’s work shares an autobiographical exploration of ethnic identity throughout his childhood and adolescence, and can be viewed at Art Space until the closing reception for free. The versatile art shown at Art Space for the public to view, even in passing through the glass windows, really captures the spirit of art in Peterborough.
Another downtown venue where local artists’ work can be admired is with a warm drink at Dreams of Beans Café. A relaxed and quiet place tucked away on 138 Hunter Street, with highly recommended white hot chocolate, The Dreams of Beans Café is a great spot to do work or catch up with a friend, and in the midst of conversation drift off into the paintings on the wall and perhaps talk about it. Currently, the café is displaying Neil Hill’s Downtown Churches of Peterborough. Hill’s paintings allow one to appreciate the landmarks of the city and the beauty of Peterborough’s churches.
The paintings do not just depict architecture, they also represent the meaning of community and all the memories that were held in that church. Recently, a vigil was held at the George Street United Church for those who have lost their lives at the shooting in a mosque in Quebec City. The empathy and respect that was shown at the vigil from members of the community of various occupations, backgrounds and beliefs was astounding and more than touching. Such a memory resides with many who will pass by that church again, or see a painting of it in a café.
Also in the Peterborough café district is the snug place with profoundly amazing desserts, Black Honey Dessert and Coffeehouse at 221 Hunter Street, which also displays local artwork on its walls where customers can admire such unique art from photography to textured paintings. Arthur sat with two international students from the United Kingdom, Holly Stark, recent grad and current contributor for Arthur, and undergrad Nura Elgamri. Holly commented on the atmosphere in Black Honey, how “everything in here can be considered art, and I really enjoy appreciating it… the music, the paintings on the walls, it all comes together to creating a really great vibe, even inspiring to put your own art out there.” Operated by Lisa Dixon, the café accepts artists’ work for consideration, with several weeks provided to prepare for their show upon approval, and the café hosts multiple local artists’ works at a time.
Holly emphasized her fondness of the cozy vibe, pretty surroundings, and pleasant music at Black Honey—and also agreed that the establishment across the street had equally great music and visual art: The Only Café.
The Only Café is just like the city it’s in: one of a kind. Being formerly known as literally the only café in Peterborough, this joint is packed full of paintings, photographs and collages combining elements from all sorts of eras and cultures. The surrounding artwork allows for guests to wander around and find something that speaks to them. It creates a space where people can talk about the art, and encourages conversation above and beyond the day-to-day small talk. One of the friendly staff members, Russell Banks, expressed his enjoyment in working at a place “where everything on the walls has a deeper meaning… I’ve definitely had some great conversations about the art in here, I’ve gotten very educated throughout my time here as well. It’s not tailored to appeal to the public, it is what it is. This place is a generator of art.”
From Matisse to Michael Jackson, the art displayed at The Only is the streak of paint on the Peterborough canvas that brings food, beer and art together. It’s a harbor for intellectual conversations between strangers or inside jokes amongst drunken friends because of the visual stimulus on all sides, and the tasteful music playlist curated by the barkeepers.
Whilst recalling good memories with friends at The Only, Nura shares her love for Peterborough and her impression of the city after being here for only four months:
“It’s a small city that seems like there isn’t much going on when in fact there’s a huge art movement, student voice, Indigenous voice and political voice, you get visits from the prime minister and concerts… it’s a pretty cool place, definitely underestimated.”
Peterborough’s character seeps through the art that can be found all around the city whilst exploring its streets. The art in Peterborough demonstrates the relevance to current issues that are happening both domestically and internationally. From Van Gogh prints on the wall of The Only, to paintings of local churches at Dreams of Beans, Peterborough provides a wide and welcoming platform for art to grow, be expressed, be discovered, and inspire contemplation.