All throughout August, something unique will be happening at Evans Contemporary. The local art gallery normally closes its doors for the month, but instead, owner Paolo Fortin is giving the keys over to Karol Orzechowski, a.k.a. local doom rapper Garbageface, for a festival titled Quality of Life.
“What I wanted to do,” says Karol, “was to bring together a bunch of different styles of art, a bunch of different disciplines, and a bunch of different people who are active in the community, and concentrate it all back in one venue for just a month of time.”
Karol began approaching local art-makers—“a handful of the usual suspects who are really active in making culture in town, and then a few people that are not as well known for doing that, but who have really good eyes and ears for it”—and inviting them to curate their own shows. The result is a full slate of 20 events, including music shows, film screenings, dance parties, and workshops.
But what makes the event truly unique is the intention behind it: an examination of gentrification, the search for space for artists, and the changing face of our downtown. “The name Quality of Life came out of a conversation Paolo and I had, where we were talking about what makes a community worth living in. The things that actually constitute quality of life in a community are arts and culture: the things that are created from the community and that invite you to participate in the community, without the need to necessarily buy shit. It’s parks, it’s theatres, it’s meeting places. Peterborough has that stuff abundantly—at least right now. It may take a turn.”
That ‘turn’ may well be underway already. Karol traces the origins of the event back to October of last year, and the closure of the Spill. The Spill was a beloved local music venue, known for its quirky vibe and its accessibility to artists of many different styles and levels of experience. “You knew that you were always going to find something different at the Spill,” recalls Karol, “that it wasn’t really pinned down to one thing. That meant that the people who grew to love the place were really open to all kinds of stuff happening.”
The closure of the Spill left many in the community wondering if there was still space in Peterborough’s downtown for independent music.
But just as the Spill was disappearing, Evans Contemporary was beginning to flourish. Their First Friday Art Crawls have become monthly touchstones for the art community, with downtown galleries, art shops, cafes, and bars working together to create a single night each month where hundreds descend upon the downtown to experience culture. And, like a number of downtown spaces in the wake of the Spill’s closure, Evans also began to host some of the live music nights now in desperate need of a home.
It speaks to the resilience of the arts community, but also to the increasingly tenuous position it holds. Peterborough’s downtown is turning into attractive real estate, and more buildings are being snapped up by developers. In part, this is happening because of the downtown’s cultural wealth—but that same cultural wealth is now under threat, due to all the development. Rents are starting to rise, and independent businesses, artists, and venues are starting to get squeezed out.
This is the process of gentrification. Karol says that artists are “inherently part of that process, and I’m realizing that as I watch it. The question then becomes, how do we stop it? Well we can’t just stop making art or producing culture, because then the bastards win, but we need to have a starting conversation about how to work resistance in our practice, and how to create culture without necessarily promoting the forces that make gentrification happen.”
Karol has called the gentrification theme a “soft theme” for the month, “and I say a soft theme in that this isn’t a month of protest or action.” Then he adds with a smile, “unless you consider running a venue and putting on cultural events action.” As the downtown gets more expensive, the mere fact of running a venue may indeed turn into a political act—but for now, we can just enjoy a great month of weird, fun shows.
Quality of Life runs August 1 to 31 at Evans Contemporary. A full listing of events is available at evanscontemporary.com.
Photo by Sarah Gibeault.
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