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Artwork by Raine Knudsen at First Friday Art Crawl | Photo Credit: Elisabeth Mill

Meet the Locals | The Peterborough Arts Collective

Written by
Irene Suvillaga
and
and
March 22, 2023
Meet the Locals | The Peterborough Arts Collective
Artwork by Raine Knudsen at First Friday Art Crawl | Photo Credit: Elisabeth Mill

Artists, whether writers, sculptors, musicians, dancers, or painters have historically played a misfit role in society. In the artist’s selfish quest to find ways to express personal truths and troubles, many have resorted to endeavours that quiet down their loud minds or ease their burning souls. Oftentimes in company of their own solitude and many times in the silent craving for connection. 

In the era of neoliberal individualism, artistic communities also known as collectives provide a space for unhinged creative expression, collaboration, dialogue, and connection - something that has become a rare feature of our society. And yet for centuries, collectives have been resorted to by intellectuals and creatives alike in a desperate attempt to challenge their knowledge, expand their horizons, and test their abilities in the company of equals. 

As an international student, Peterborough has slowly opened up its doors to me by exposing  its spectacular music and art scene. Hidden in downtown’s most popular street amid the rowdy bars, art-covered alleyways, cosy cafes, and sundry restaurants lies the Jason Wilkins Factory - Jason Wilkin’s studio and the home of Peterborough’s own Arts Collective (PAC). 

Slowly stepping out of its infancy, the Factory has become the spot for artists to come together and create. This creative hub is a space of kindness, empowerment, and inclusion. Its welcoming air is clearly fostered by the individuals who now view this place as an artistic safe haven. From First Friday Peterborough to solo and group art exhibitions, the factory has grown to be a significant part of the town’s art scene. 

Started by illustrator and muralist Jason Wilkins, the project grew as an organic extension of himself and his desire to create. “The space did something different for me for sure. And I think what happened was for me personally, I was looking for something beyond myself to satisfy myself creatively” Wilkins expressed, his eyes glittering as they wandered through the brightly-lit room. He continued, “When I started doing PAC it gave me something different and made me feel different. So then that I think trickled into my work. And I just started doing all these other different things,”

Slowly but surely, PAC became a symbiotic relationship mediating between his development as a person and his art, and the community at large. From my experience, this sentiment is clear to be shared collectively. 

Alongside PAC’s coordinator Kevin Gallagher, the collective has rapidly evolved, absorbing artists of all disciplines, skill levels, and backgrounds. As a poet, artist, and dancer himself, Gallagher speaks on diversity and inclusion as some of PAC’s founding pillars, describing PAC as a place where difference is not only embraced but desired, where what the untrained/oblivious/mainstream eye may see as deficit becomes a superpower.

As Gallagher puts it, as he sat down diagonally to Wilkins, “I’m autistic and… to put it in the quickest way possible, autistic people have a superpower and a deficit. My superpower typically is talking to people and my ability to communicate.” Gallagher conveyed his genuine passion for PAC as he explained to me how the collective had become a transformative experience by offering him not only a place where he saw himself belonging to, but a space where he could thrive, contributing  to something bigger than himself. “...Without entering PAC and having a bigger space for me to grow into,  I probably just would have stayed at home and just sort of kept drifting.”

He later continued, “Art is people telling stories through whatever medium. And the more diversity you have in a group, the more stories you get to explore, the more you get to learn about the people you’re working with.”  

In the collective’s continual desire to branch out, the collective is in a constant outlook and generous encouragement for new stories to walk fearlessly through the Factory’s doors. Imagine a room full of stories that have long been denied or are simply incapable of accessing the socialite and sterile rooms of galleries around town. 

In Wilkins’ own words, 

“When I started it, I really had no preconceived idea. Like it was just more like I wanted to get artists together. And just because in town, there’s a lot of red tape around getting involved in anything arts related. So the idea of the Arts Collective was like… you come in, you have a good time, you work with other artists, and you just have fun. Like, that’s, there should be  no ulterior motive.”

Instead, the collective’s heart-beating passion stems from its artists and their mere organic need to create and be created. In this way, the collective thrives in its inherent ability to imagine and be imagined. In other words, PAC, like many other collectives, is a place where its grassroots origins act as cultural drivers, enhancing the town’s art scene through acceptance, collaboration and equality.

“I have mentors within PAC and I am a mentor for some others within PAC”

Though art might oftentimes seem like a solitary practice, art collectives prove quite the contrary - it thrives in community. In large numbers of other anti-socialite creatives who have a need to test the boundaries of culture, skill, and heterogeneity.   

Creative spurs do not always happen after days spent in the confinement of four walls and the judgemental stare of that blank canvas or the unsettling silence of that white page. Sometimes and even more often than we might want to admit, the need to leave the sanctuary of our own creative comfort and be in the presence of others is a necessary discomfort - a rather satisfying one. PAC provides that space for creatives, a place where ‘artists support artists’ in the safe and unfettering walls of the Wilkins’ Factory.

“What you have here is you have a bigger space, people can wander, people can mingle, music can happen, people can dance if they want… But it’s not just people coming for one artist. It’s there’s people coming to see Jason’s work and my work and Julie’s work. And so you have everybody’s audience gaining access to your work.”
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