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Lake Huron Community Hosts Cultural Centre

Dual lifelong passions (art and people) are being united to bring to life a community- based centre called the Bayfield Centre for the Arts. When it is full functioning, the centre will enrich the lives of area residents and visitors to this lakeside community. It will host exhibits, workshops and studios amidst the natural beauty of Huron County.

water colour flower

The idea started on a front step, sprouted in a Bayfield living room, then set roots in all levels of government and business. It came to artist, educator and president of Bayfield Centre for the Arts Leslee Squirrell after touring a similar centre in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. “I came out the front door and said, ‘We can do this in Bayfield.

St. Andrews is an artsy, seaside community, of similar size, similar demographics.” Squirrell invited 12 colleagues to share the idea in her living room. Part of the conversation focused on the gap between performing and visual arts through supportive organizations. “It’s really important to have a single roof for visual arts.”

She began pitching the concept to other organizations, business owners, all levels of government. A board formed, incorporated and earned official charitable designation. During a visit to the area by Lisa Thompson, Huron-Bruce MPP, Squirrell was introduced to Lisa McLeod, minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries. “She (McLeod) was so excited by the concept and is supportive.”

Plans were developed for programs for 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and the organization had to take a step back Squirrell says.

canvas with red paint

Leslee Squirrell (INSET) plans offerings that include outdoor painting workshops.

canvas with nature scene woman with glasses

"We'll offer classes and workshops for every age, four to 104, of every ability, interest and skill set you can imagine."

- Leslee Squirrell, President Bayfield Centre for the Arts

They began looking for a site to build the centre. “In a perfect world what we really want is a piece of land four or five acres with a purpose-built facility with an art park for fairs and installations, en plein air events, and a gallery to attract travelling exhibitions from places such as the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and the National Gallery to bring art to this area that people would not otherwise have the opportunity to see.”

children painting

The building will be environmentally healthy and sustainable, incorporating several design principles, such as green building ratings systems (GBRS), biophilic design strategies and certified eco-materials.

Inside it will be a hive of creative activity. “Our mission is education and exposure of art to the general public,” says Squirrell. “We’ll offer classes and workshops for every age, four to 104, of every ability, interest and skill set you can imagine. There will be lectures and fairs. It will be a destination arts centre.

We will advocate for visual arts and create support for everyone. That story resonates when I tell it to levels of government. They understand the economic impact.

Whether it is a local resident who enrolls in a class and exhibits their work, or a visitor who rents a cottage and takes a course or visits the gallery, it enriches at many levels. Squirrell plans to create relationships with area schools for classes, lectures and gallery visits.

Day and summer camps, workshops and masterclasses by distinguished artists will be offered for experienced artists and “people who have never done anything. It will enhance the life for residents as much as for visitors.” Bayfield Centre for the Arts will also provide outreach programs for area mental health facilities.

The arts offered will also span a spectrum: painting, textiles, photography, sculpture, ceramics and glass, woodworking, digital and new media, as well as culinary and literary arts and fine crafts. “Under one roof, we’ll offer cross-pollination and cross-practices.”

Squirrell says she has wandered from a painting workshop into a glass studio to see what was going on there and has been inspired and motivated. Multiple studies have been dedicated to a variety of mediums that allow cross-pollination and cross-practice, she says.

In keeping with the rural setting and heritage, Squirrell envisions the facility as a modern barn, a contemporary version of the classic Huron barn. “There will be big doors to the outside.” The outdoor space will host public art installations, art fairs and festivals. Until it is built Bayfield Centre for the Arts is in a barn at 24 Main Street. The space in front, the barnyard, will be used for classes and exhibits.

Part of the organization’s mandate is to take art to the people. A truck, donated by Lake Huron Chrysler, takes a mobile studio to businesses, groups and families who book a particular activity. “It’s very COVID-friendly,” says Squirrell. “When you call to book, you choose from a list of offerings, so we can supply the materials for painting, fibre art such as macramé or needlepoint, photography or a craft.”

The truck carries an instructor, assistant and all supplies. “Everyone gets their own table, chair, materials to take home and do another. We encourage creative activity and generate people who want to take up a new medium.”

potter sculpting clay

This summer, the barn on Main Street also offers three masterclasses: two in painting in June and July; one in soapstone carving in August. “You’ll come away from the four-hour class with a carving,” says Squirrell.

Accredited,experienced artists teach these masterclasses. To be in the know and be able to enroll in your chosen class, she suggests you sign up for the newsletter to get inside and advance information. Create Together is an open studio in the barnyard each week through the summer.

“People bring their own project to work on. It’s the stimulus of being among other creative people.” In September, Squirrell says the group will hold an online auction. “It’s a great opportunity to acquire experiences, lessons beyond art.”

"Building from the grassroots to encompass individuals, businesses and organizations, the Bayfield Centre for the Arts can be a model for transformative co-operation."

An online Year of the Barn exhibition attracted submissions from across the province. “It’s an amazing collection of style, vision and skill,” says Squirrell. Volunteers are needed for all these activities.

“I want to hear from artists who give classes, people to work on the art truck, to help with administration and financially. We’ve already attracted many interesting people. It’s taken off quickly. The concept and offerings really resonate with everyone we talk to.” Squirrell says third-party fundraisers, who hold events and donate proceeds to the Bayfield Centre for the Arts, are also appreciated.

The Birdhouse Foundation contributed for example. Connor Withers and his father Tim build birdhouses from scrap wood in Burlington and donate them to charities.

The benefits of being creative can start in early childhood or in retirement. “I’m excited about children getting involved early,” says Squirrell. She is also antic-ipating sharing the joy with retirees, people who now have time to explore new pursuits. “Creating that opportunity really excites me. I know the benefit of practicing art and being in the flow, totally immersed, when I am painting.

seniors painting

You forget worries, you’re in a healthy creative space. The process is important not the product. That’s what excites me. I know what that feeling is like. I want to build this so other people can experience those moments.” Building from the grassroots to encompass individuals, businesses and organizations, the Bayfield Centre for the Arts can be a model for transformative co-operation. Community benefits include social, health, business, job creation, population retention and tourism.

“Our Board of Directors is comprised of myself, Jack Pal, Debra MacArthur, John Marshall and Bill Whetstone, all of whom have volunteered many hours and great advice and governance to this project and our vision. I could not have accomplished anything without their dedicated support and participation,” says Squirrell.