Young Festival Gallery artists using extra year to improve their art
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Following the Blyth Festival’s lead, the Festival’s namesake art gallery has cancelled its 2020 season, its 45th, pushing its exhibits to 2021.
“With a heavy heart, we follow the direction taken by the Festival and will darken the gallery for 2020,” said President Carl Stevenson of Blyth in a press release from the gallery. “We recognize that COVID-19 has changed the world we live in and has touched all our lives. The artists that would have presented their works during this season will take the brunt of this decision, but we will continue to support them and ensure they have the opportunity to exhibit in 2021. We will miss the opportunity to gather and celebrate our artists and patrons. However, we look forward to returning for a strong 2021 season. We especially appreciate the support and understanding of our generous sponsors.”
The 2020 season was set to feature exhibits by Blyth’s Kelly Stevenson, Lucknow’s Hannah Dickie and a survey exhibition of pottery by eight Ontario artists, in addition to the annual Student Show and Community Show.
In an interview with The Citizen, Stevenson confirmed that all three professional exhibits and their artists would return and be featured in the 2021 season. In addition, he said board members had spoken with artists to be included in the 2021 season, which was fully booked, and they were all understanding and willing to move their shows to the 2022 season.
Stevenson said that while it is disappointing to have to cancel the season, no member of the board was very surprised that it came to this point. Not only is it necessary in these unprecedented times, he said, but it’s also the right thing to do.
In speaking with The Citizen several weeks ago after the decision to cancel the Student Show, Stevenson said the gallery would be following the Festival’s lead. The Festival’s decision to cancel the 2020 season made the cancellation of the gallery season a foregone conclusion, Stevenson said.
In speaking with the artists associated with the next two seasons, Stevenson said everyone was understanding and not very surprised with the move, doing everything they could to help the gallery accommodate the shift.
Stevenson said personally he was most disappointed when the Student Show didn’t go ahead. It’s his favourite show of the year and a favourite of many board members that provides the ability to watch young artists mature and develop year after year, many of whom come back to exhibit in professional shows years down the road.
With the schools closed and the teachers unable to work with students to produce art pieces for the shows, Stevenson said that cancellation wasn’t exactly a surprise to the board either.
“I am truly disappointed that we will be unable to open the doors to the Blyth Festival Art Gallery this season,” said Bruce Stainton, the gallery’s exhibition committee chair in the press release. “After having to cancel our annual Student Show earlier this spring, I was hopeful we would be able to go forward with the rest of the exhibition schedule. Unfortunately, we’ll have to be patient, and shift our focus to 2021 and present the exhibitions that had been planned for this year.”
Stevenson said the cancellation of the season has introduced some interesting conversations about options in the future. While the infrastructure isn’t yet in place, he said the board has discussed potentially hosting a virtual gallery in the future if necessary.
Kelly Stevenson, who was slated to present an exhibition of paintings and drawings, said the cancellation is unfortunate, both artistically and financially.
While she and the other artists slated to be featured this season had an inkling the season might be cancelled, without confirmation, they were working towards it, spending money and creating art, unsure if it would see the light of day later this year.
She said that while it’s nice to have another year to create art and curate the exhibition, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to get her hands on art supplies. The pandemic has also hit Kelly in the wallet, as she is now unable to sell her work at the gallery or at any other shows or markets she was planning on being a part of this year.
In preparing for this year’s exhibition, Kelly had purchased all of her frames for the show, a costly expense, which will now wait until 2021, so it has definitely affected her financially.
As for the art itself, Kelly says she has been working in installments on a collection for over four years now, so she doesn’t anticipate changing her work for the exhibition, though the more time she has to create will give her more options and the opportunity to be a little more picky when it comes time to select pieces for the show.
Lucknow’s Hannah Dickie is another young artist who was due to be featured in this year’s season in her first professional show. She has been documenting life at her home farm, a small-scale operation in the Lucknow area, for years, creating “Home Grown” a photographic documentary.
She has been back home in Lucknow now for several weeks, living at home full-time for the first time in five years. It has given her unanticipated time home on the farm to expand her work. For example, she says she hasn’t been home to photograph the gardening season since she started this project, so the pandemic has offered her that unexpected opportunity.
As for her work on the show, she was still photographing when the pandemic took hold, but she had begun curating some of her existing photographs in preparation for the show, which was due to open in late August.
She says she’s very grateful for the support from the Blyth Festival Art Gallery, which has stuck with the artists, bringing them back in 2021 and supported them in any way it could after the season was initially suspended and now cancelled.
Dickie says she’s excited to share her photography with the gallery patrons in a safe environment so everyone can get back to enjoying the arts in Huron County.