On the issue of creative space: Reflections on Arts Ecology Salon #53 minute read

Over the past year or so doing creative projects in the area, I’ve dipped into Arts & Culture in Brantford; at first a toe, later a whole leg. I’ve learned a lot about the city, including the artists which constitute the creative community, and how the general public views the Arts & Culture sector. What I have found to stand out the most is the art community’s inability to be considered as a cohesive and integral part of the city. Which is why I believe that as much as there needs to be a place for artists to create, it is more important that we believe we have the capability and space to exercise that creativity.

The old town hall in Paris, Ontario which has been envisioned as the Bawcutt Centre, a mixed-use community centre with a strong Arts & Culture component; opening unknown

There is a strong disconnect between the city, its people, and an identifiable Arts & Culture community; something that the concept of space could eventually ratify. Being new to Brantford, I have had a unique opportunity to sit down with members of the community and delve into the complexities surrounding the issue of ‘Art’ from a newcomer’s perspective. During those meetings, I have seen the intense passion and unwavering dedication of those which constitute the creative community. There is no lack of artistic talent in Brantford but, from the outside, that talent just isn’t represented.

A recurring narrative

A community member and Arts advocate sharing their thoughts on the decades long journey to integrate Arts more holistically in Brantford / Brant

Doing research in Brantford / Brant, I noticed a similar, ironically unified, vision amongst artists, gallery curators and government officials: the arts community has tried, and tried again, to maintain their collaborative space and each time has failed. The rise and fall of the Brantford Arts Block in the 2000–2010s was only the latest in a string of failures since the 1970s to provide artists and creatives with the resources and tools necessary to build a thriving community. With these failures hanging over creators darkening each new attempt to move forward, I believe it is time for a radical shift in mentality.

Our city needs to see that there is ‘space’ in the community – socially, not just physically, speaking – for Arts & Culture before there is any hope of expanding engagement. Brantford and Brant County have a unique situation where creative people flourish within their own private spheres but, as a whole, they are still lacking a cohesive, collective voice, vision and space. This is evident in the lack of diversification of those attending Arts & Culture events. It’s always the same crowd and, as although they have their own strong communities, the territorialization and separation does not help the community grow.

Expanding the community

When we go to art events or look at art promotions, there is very little integration of the different types of art and, what little there is, doesn’t seem to be enough to stimulate the community long term. This is where I believe that a change in mentality could do some good; Arts & Culture events need to be about more than just art, they need to be about the artists and their legacies. In order to achieve this, the current arts community must first address the staggering amount of apathy present even in those most dedicated to the cause.

Often I hear people saying that building physical spaces for the arts are great not only for artists but for Brantford itself, and that we need to have something like that back in our community. I believe that in order to successfully inhabit a physical space, the community must first understand the importance of collaborative thinking and work on carving out a social space; one that the community presents as a united front. Then, I believe, there is a chance for Brantford – simultaneously the artists and art supporters – to begin to imagine and work towards creating the physical space that so many of us desire.

Photos by the author