I have the extreme good fortune to live just outside of Ayr, a small farming town in southwestern Ontario, near Kitchener. We’ve got a dam with waters inhabited by a pair of cantankerous swans that consistently elude capture every winter, a busy vet who must have 10 stray cats, and now a new hockey arena that everyone’s got an opinion on.
It’s a similar scenario to many small Canadian towns. But the one thing we have, that many other North American communities don’t, is Jill Yuzwa — a one woman arts and culture machine who has made it her mission to ensure that the people of Ayr are exposed to the arts and that Ayr is exposed to the world.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Yuzwa issued a global invitation. Utilizing social media, she put a call out to female artists to see if anyone was interested in participating in a show celebrating 100 years of women in the arts and the response that she received was unbelievable. I went down to Ayrspace, Jill’s gallery in downtown Ayr, to find out how this all came to be.
Q: Tell me about your project.
The International Women Celebrate! (IWC) exhibition and sale was designed to 1) observe the Centenary of International Women’s Day; 2) bring together an international artistic response; and 3) contribute to the Haitian relief effort through partial proceeds from the sale of the artworks and 100 per cent of contributions from visitors to the exhibit.
Q: How did you get the word out?
The strategy was to do the call through social networks. Daily painter Kim Rempel and artist Jeanette Obbink helped. We were successful; our short call (one month) generated over 200 responses from around the world.
Q: How did you come up with the figure 107?
We had over 200 respond/inquiries. Some did not read the [instructions] thoroughly and there was little time. The seasoned artists had no problem. As with all processes we had some natural attrition at the very end. In the end 107 artists committed with a work — they had to submit them electronically by the first week in January for the IWC! book.
Q: What was the criteria for acceptance?
The call originally went out through established artists social networks, let’s be specific about that. As a result we did not have to jury the work. The IWC! Exhibit has never been about judging the works… process was important and so was inclusive collaboration.
Q: How many different kinds of mediums are you showing?
Photography, print-making, painting: watercolours, oil and acrylic, encaustic, mixed media — the two sculptors…one glass and one hydrocal FGR.
Q: How many people are you expecting? Paint me a picture of how the celebration will unfold.
Keep in mind the actual IWC! Exhibition is five weeks long so let’s talk about the launch events.
The launch of this exhibit had to be unconventional because of the virtual collaboration of artists. On March 5th and 6th approximately half of the artist collaborators visited Ayr for their own artists preview. We have women confirmed from all over the country. We will Skype in the international collaborators during the weekend.
On International Women’s Day, a Gala Opening takes place for our community partners and volunteers. The Honourable Sheila Copps will open the exhibition and will be joined by two local heroes, Rebecca Thomas and Ryan Graham, who have both done good work in Haiti.
Q: What has the community response been like thus far?
Early on we engaged some not so obvious partners — the local transportation companies and customs brokers who are a vital part of our local economy. The guys have just been astounding. I think they have enjoyed interacting with the artists and we all feel pride for what we are doing together.
Local farmers, food shops, restaurants and an Ontario Vineyard have also all pitched in. This week the local newspaper ran a nice story and old friends have been popping their heads in. The collaboration has been incredible.
Q: More and more we’re seeing communities banding together to provide more arts exposure at a local level. Any thoughts on this?
One of my mentors, author Jim Lotz, is just releasing a book on community entrepreneurship. I think this notion combined with social entrepreneurship and value-based enterprise is an innovative way to look at community regeneration. The key people in an initiative have to really be committed. It is high risk and process driven and not everyone is friendly to the arts, but even with the risks, we must continue to try.
If you’d like to help, why not purchase a copy of the IWC book, or better yet, come to Ayr and see the show. A portion of the proceeds are going towards Haitian earthquake relief. And while you’re visiting, head over to Jedburgh Dam to catch a glimpse of our infamous, runaway swans.
Cathi Bond is a writer and broadcaster living on the outskirts of Ayr.