A display of paintings from Christopher Cape is shown off at one of the many artist display areas at Art in the Park. The annual Stratford Summer tradition runs every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting) until the end of September.
It was 1968 and Art In The Park in Stratford was born, the brainchild of Mrs. Yvonne Singer. After teaching art in Ottawa, she moved to Stratford with her husband who worked as director of Workshop Programming for the Festival Theatre.Â
Prior to moving to Stratford, Singer won the support of the National Art Centre in Ottawa and opened an open-air art exhibition on the terraces of the NAC. She thought the parks in Stratford to be the perfect spot for this same type of project, given the beauty, the abundance of artists and the worldwide audience of the Festival.
She joined forces with the âWomenâs Committeeâ of the StratfordÂ Art Association, got support from Mr. Bob Ihrig, director of Rothmanâs Gallery andÂ obtained permission from the Parks Board to get the show going on a trial monthlyÂ basis.
And so, Art in the Park was born.
The first show in Queens Park opened with about 25 exhibitors. The set up was lax and informal with little structure. Space was supposed to be assigned on a first come first served basis, but artists would show up at any time throughout the day and show whatever they wanted. There was no jury or leadership. Because the concept was so new, no one really knew what it was supposed to look like.
The park suffered through carelessness; using park benches for displays, propping artwork up against or hanging from trees and driving on the grass. This drew the ire of the Parks Board and ultimately, demands were made and met in order for the exhibit to continue. These demands became the rules governing the show. Among those demands were that there be a screening body to jury the artwork, that an executive be developed that was responsible for enforcing rules and who comes and goes, and that exhibitors have group liability insurance for the show.
This year there are sixty members of the Art in the Park organization, of which there are fifteen new this year. To become a member, the system first involves applying online after a call to artists for submission, with six photographs and a bio which are stripped of any identifying information in order to maintain total impartiality of the jurors. The three independent jurors that are linked to the art industry are not members of the association so are without bias. Each artist submits their work within one of nine categories and are judged based on criteria including originality, style.
Once an artist has been accepted they do not need to reapply each subsequent season. They are required to show 10 days minimum each season and are signed in for the morning and signed out in the evening.Â
Bev Hewitt is a stained-glass artist and also volunteers within the executive. He moved to Stratford seven years ago. Among his work, he rescued some stained glass from St Johnâs United Church when it was demolished six years ago and has created replica windows from the church. The religious windows were restored and repaired and moved to Avondale church. He went back to the church before the wrecking ball hit and agreed to buy some of the glass and has created other pieces from it.Â
âFor me to do something like this, I was just talking to some people from Chicago area. Itâs just fascinating the people that come through and generally, people asking questions. You can talk to the artists that love what they do. Weâve got new ones with stuff Iâve never seen before,â said Hewitt.
One of the new artists this year, Chris Cape, has been painting full time out of Guelph. He has spent the last eight years painting in the great outdoors, âEn Plein Airâ and is inspired by movement. He works on location in the field to bring a deeper connection with his subject. His card says his paintings are meant to activate, in the viewer, a moment of wonder. He is very impressed by his surroundings and the show.
Another new artist in the clay category is Visnja Cuturic of Mitchell Pottery. Her first year at Art in the Park brings not only her fabulous work, but also the hands-on introduction to clay for children to make their own name tags.Â
âItâs a fun way to entertain kids and give parents a few moments on their own to appreciate the artwork surrounding them,â said Cuturic.
Long-time Art in the Park member David Humphrey is a wood turner of local woods showing beautiful bowls and sushi plates with chopsticks. He is a well-known exhibitor in the park and lives in Stratford. He has been showing since 1989.Â
âPeople werenât as busy back then, as they are now. Things have changed, the worldâs gotten busier but we still have the same group basically with the same core values, which are working together, helping each other, having organization values. Artists were encouraged to work, to show their process if they could and answer questions. They were to encourage other artists and show an interest in the art world and young people, who might then pick up a brush and give it a try,â he said.
Artists learn from other artists which is the basis of their creed. Purchasing art is still in style. There is still that core group that like to talk to the artists rather than purchase something digitally.
Humphrey also sees the members as ambassadors of the city. They meet a lot of tourists and are often asked questions in conversation like where is a good place to eat, or to stay. There is a symbiotic relationship between the arts and hospitality, pointing each otherâs way and bringing return visits.
Itâs all part of the Stratford experience and has been for 54 seasons. Art in the Park runs May 21- September 28 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (weather permitting). To learn more about Art in the Park, visit their website at www.artintheparkstratford.ca.