Waterloo Region Needs to Break Down Walls to Build Innovation In the Arts #gatekeeping #newcomers #WRArts #WRAwesome

I have a dear friend who has made it to the top, has done great and unusual things like play Massey Hall. When they moved to Waterloo Region one of the the things they noticed is that it isn’t just the politics or the cultural climate. If you aren’t in a certain group in Waterloo Region, you will constantly struggle to get ahead, no matter how accomplished you are.

Something about Waterloo Region arts wants artists who are already beyond accomplished. There is almost no wiggle room to grow, test new ideas, or learn how to be an artist here. There is no room for innovation. No way to cut new teeth. If it isn’t the replication of a current western culture (blues, jazz, classical, paintings, Shakespeare, even though I love many of these things, they are not the bleeding edge) in the most stringent and academic of ways, it must be already perfect or bust. When I say arts, I definitely mean the large streams and not art as strictly a visual thing (which is a silo that needs to stop…. really stop). I mean music (new music, but also trying to get a band started as an “outsider”), theatre (for all the plays done by the various companies here, theatre by women or PoC, or Indigenous is pathetically low), visual, inter arts, multimedia, media, film, literature, poetry, performance, dance (where the heck is dance in WR? Where?)…

I think the downfall (I refuse to call it failure – it wasn’t a failure… Waterloo region failed Night\Shift) of a placehacking festival here is a real point where a white techie geek festival of trying new and innovative things can’t work is real a litmus test for the geek culture not even able to push their own beyond the gatekeepers..

My partner brought up that there are very rigid gatekeepers here, and I myself have butted up against them. I imagine many have, especially those that transgress colonial Germanic or white narrative. I imagine that this goes further as well with a lot of women, and PoC, but then also many folk who have even expressed an opinion about the issues I am trying to address have likely found themselves feeling blacklisted. There are lot of us who have invested our lives, homes and careers in Waterloo Region who do not fit the old guard. Who exactly is this old guard? (Really no names in the comments, I will delete it as soon as I see it.) What do they value? Who do they fund and why?

These questions likely have real targeted answers, but I also think there are deeper forces at play with this sort of thing. One person can say “so and so” is the one who holds the money. But then there are relationships that work to outcomes beyond a single name, a single instance or org, a single entity. Mostly, it is really hostile here to newcomers, to those who do not fit some kind of mould or model. And I do think this influence starts with certain aspects of misunderstanding of the process and practice of making art itself, but ranges deeper into an almost “who owns whom” chain of allegiance. The problem with this is that culture does not survive by chain linking, but instead thrives by the powerful multiverse matrix of a rhizome.

I want to research this somehow. I am not even sure how to proceed. It is cliquish and insular here, and I would love to find a way to find out what this is, how many people feel it, and how to address it.

I am posting mostly to learn if anyone else would be interested in looking into this. I know it isn’t just me as I have talked to a many other artists about this. Does this sort of research project ring with anyone else? I would like to work through this in an artist process as much as reveal sentiment about here. I love living here and would love to see it become a better place. Message me. I really do want to hear from people who find it hard to practice here, but also I want to hear from people who have left.

I would love to hear from you. If you are ok with your comments in the open, please leave them on this post. But also, if you would like a greater discretion, I can be reached at terre@mycontention.com

You say divisive, I say DIVERSE #WRAwesome #WRArts

Artists of Waterloo Region – Don’t even allow them to entertain the thought that we are “divisive”. We are not divisive. We have different needs. I also have a sneaky suspicion that this is a term used deliberately to undermine the grassroots from organising. We are not some tidy economic development package. We are a sector that represents plurality and multiplicity.
Because we present different needs, they think we are divisive. I have a better word. It’s another “D” word. We are DIVERSE.
The theatre company is not the same as the individual visual artist. The poet’s needs don’t match the small group of musicians. Some of us need quiet rooms that require sound proofing. Others need proscenium stages. Others among us can make due with a place to store equipment and a computer at a desk. Some folk need a storage locker for old work, a studio to build new work, and a gallery to show them all. This does not make us divisive.
When someone says the Waterloo Region arts community is divisive, match them with the word DIVERSE. We are diverse. And in our diversity, we are like any diverse culture: strong, resilient, and beautiful.

I Love My City, Always Have, Always Will. But I Need YOU to Support It: A Letter to Michael Litt and the Tech Sector Leaders

Culture isn’t expressed through clean, gentrified space.

I wrote this in 2013 (Why The Art and Culture Fail: Waterloo Syndrome), long before so many other cool initiatives came about. Since then, NIGHT\SHIFT, a festival almost tailor made for tech (STEAM) has come and gone. Neruda Arts has pushed Kultrún World Music Festival into bold existence despite a city that has constantly undermined it by placing the epic failing Big Music Festival on the same weekend, twice. Summer Lights Festival has started up in spectacular ways as well. NUMUS is beyond cool, has been successful for decades, and I bet you have never even heard of it… it isn’t for their lack of trying. 

We bring in world class talent, Michael. We have for decades. I invite you to comb the lists of artists presented in many of the festivals I have mentioned in this and the linked posts. Check out the institutions and look at the artists that have presented in this community. But also… In 2009, seven artists in downtown Kitchener alone received emerging artists grants from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) – this is a distinction and honour indicating that a practice is well received and supported by the second highest level of artistic funding available to Canadians living in Ontario. We bring in interesting and beautiful things from all over. We export world class talent as well, with many many artists who start here find themselves unsupported and unable to stay. Only one of those seven remains in the region. Many more have been conferred this honour, and most have left for better places to build an artistic practice.

We attract world class because we are world class. Many artists from here have moved, toured vastly, won international acclaim and awards, only to come back without a whisper of their actions and wild successes cracking through the provincial veneers of our media, or indeed your own scene: The Tech Sector.

Oddly, 2009 was the last year I felt like we had a real crack at making multiple scenes emerge. By 2011, I knew we were on a sinking ship. This lines up with two major changes – the Prosperity Council making noise and arts and culture eventually falling under Economic Development (big, big mistake), and tech pushing its way into downtown. If there was any combination of two substances made to kill creative practice, this was RoundUp to the grassroots.

It isn’t just the lack of support for our festivals, our work, it is also that between you, Communitech, and so many other heavily funded, sponsored, coddled and supported tech initiatives have entirely displaced our workspaces and homes.

Tech leaders LOVE to talk about how the Lang Tannery was an empty shell, disgusting and unused before they received millions of dollars of funding to retrofit it into being an office space. This is such a ridiculous misplacement of truth. There were large unused spaces in the Lang Tannery, much like there are in many buildings downtown, but it was also home to several artists, artisans, skilled trades people, dance and yoga studios, and other creative workers. Large “unused” spaces were sites of massive and tremendously cool art parties like the legendary Blue Dot parties (which attract art and culture lovers from as far as Berlin and New York for a single, very cool event that has become increasingly rare because of the lack of space and support). These are things that you and other tech leaders have displaced and removed through your own occupation of space. Know your history. Know especially those you have snuffed so that you can understand now why you miss their contributions, because what you are bemoaning is exactly what we used to have.

The Boehmer Box Factory on Breithaupt was our final large, extremely run down area that we could afford that didn’t have a waiting list a mile long for space. It was unsafe, terrifying especially for women, lacked any security so theft was such a thing, and had leaks in the roof that could transgress a first floor studio, and often packed with studios. It is now being gentrified for… can you guess? No, not cleaned up to provide space for the folk who build the identity of a community that lives into eternity. No. It’s offices. And this last space gentrified is a nail in the coffin for new inexpensive and viable studios anywhere accessible to a community of creatives.

(Also, just to be clear… a small office is not a studio. I know someone is going to make an argument about the Gaukel building so I am stating it ahead: We have a micron of space for minuscule offices for organisations of two. Great if all art was a person and desk… but that is you. Not us. I do imagine your office is not cubicle-sized even still. And this space represents administrations, which are important and do need this affordable space, not the practice of art making itself. Plainly put: it’s just not enough, and simply unsuitable for the bulk of creative practices.)

Any small bit of infrastructure we had left was destroyed by the tech sector.

City of Kitchener Council

Government is so clean looking… so is bureaucracy and red tape

It is true that art gets made in these places when they are run-down. So many good and great artists have occupied downtown walkups, run down factories, and many other areas that would not be deemed fit for most of your colleagues but this has a lot to do with the fact that a huge purse of money in the arts is in the thousands, nowhere close to the millions. The arts, especially in this region, cannot get a break. Where tech has seen literal millions of gvt funding in just the last couple years, the arts are displaced, moved, underfunded and completely left without space. And it isn’t just a lack of space, there is an almost complete lack of interest in making viable, affordable space. But then there is a lack of support around every aspect of art making in Waterloo Region, and yes, you are indeed a major part of the problem. 

In the article linked above, I made a single proposal to fix this. Keep in mind that this was 5 years ago, and nothing has been done to amend this creative drain. The need has grown but the fixes are still remarkably simple. But they require support, funding, and political will. They require you and others like you to listen.

The problems have only gotten worse, but it isn’t because artists don’t know what is happening, it isn’t because we haven’t been attempting stop gaps (literally a small festival here is called Stop-Gap, and Collective Identity partnership with THEMUSEUM has also been about giving artists a much needed platform), and then collectives like Art District Gallery. It is because we haven’t been listened to, and instead, patriarchal approaches have reigned with leaders such as yourself who do not have the research, the knowledge, or the simple facts of creative practice under their belts. You and your equally unknowledgeable colleagues are listened to and regarded as experts instead of the real experts in our community who live this reality, study this reality, research this reality and watch other communities overcome this reality through measures well considered, well researched, well applied work there, and are ignored here. Or even worse – turned into talent attraction schemes – money thrown at symposia or yet another consultant that confirms what leaders in the arts and culture communities have been saying for the better part of a decade.

“Biggest point is that you’ve got it wrong. You can’t use the arts solely as a talent recruitment device… cause then you fund the wrong things. You build the wrong things. You focus on arts that you think make sense. What you aren’t seeing is that the artists who live here moved here for the same reasons why anyone else does. They are also in love with the vibrant and crazy stuff in the water that makes Waterloo Region shimmer and pulsate and their arts reflect this. Pulling in one-off acts and shows may be good for a night, but they do not celebrate that common thread that we all possess that only this geography can lay claim to. They are not the bread and butter, or the culture development that we need.”

It isn’t about the great outfits. It’s about having grit.

Clean cities aren’t great and interesting cities. Jane Jacobs had a lot to say on this but a thing that stands out to me are that cities that are truly exciting and vibrant are cities where the narratives, the voices, the creative heartbeat of the city rises to the surface in a cacophony of joy. An interesting city is a messy city. Toronto’s Queens Quay is a dead zone despite its clean glass towers but Kensington Market is thrumming with life, thriving and breathing with every person rich or poor, every walk of life, pigeon, millionaire or rat blended in to a crowd of bright shining beauty, and the tireless beat of curious and living feet on the streets – art, music, live theatre, and economy singing from the very asphalt, especially before it too started to gentrify because it was so damned cool. San Francisco was seriously interesting when it was messy – a hodge podge of queer folk, sex workers, artists, People of Colour all finding homes in the Mission, in the Castro. It is a paling and increasingly sad version of its older self, especially when I talk to those very mentioned who made the place interesting get displace into further reaches, and dangerous accommodations outside of the cores they built.  Heaven forbid we ever, ever become the sad, gentrified, racist, classist, sexist cities of Silicon Valley. We are already deep in with hate crimes and being uninhabitable for women – tech isn’t going to change this.


It isn’t the artist you pay to graffiti your walls who is making a statement, making a change. They are delivering a corporate statement to a corporation. Their narrative isn’t a community narrative. It is your company narrative paid on your company dime. Yes, office art is important and please keep giving artists opportunities to make your walls match your aesthetic sense and sofas. But art that sounds like the heartbeat of a community isn’t clean. Hamilton is exciting for a reason. It isn’t clean, polished, devoid of the messy corners. Now that it is beginning to gentrify, Hamiltonians are railing against it. There is a creative pulse because of the affordability of space and support for artists to settle there.

But this didn’t happen because a business leader painted a corner and said “artists come here”. It happened because the arts community could have a chance to organise, and make their city worthy of an artistic practice. In 2013, I also wrote an article about how it was less expensive to put an entire audience on a bus to a theatre in Toronto that has been been rented, buy this audience dinner and drink, and then get them home – cheaper than renting space in Waterloo Region for making theatre happen here. This has deepened significantly in the last five years. At this point, we could charter a coach, bring the audience to a casual fine dining restaurant, serve several premium cocktails or whiskeys, bring them to the show, and take the chartered coach home with a bottle of wine and gift bag for each person – all for the cost of space rental. This is without the audience paying a single red cent.

You are starving us.

And your talent attraction schemes makes even the most beloved of artists cringe. Gross.

monty python fart trumpet“I am more and more convinced that we fail so miserably at retaining artists, building arts and culture scenes because we use the building of these scenes as a marketing device. There is barely a market in the city for the most commercialisable arts (paintings and take home items that you can purchase), never mind a market or even an appropriate case built for creating, building and maintaining artists, an arts scene or culture beyond the most banal. There is a place for marketing an arts scene, and we are in desperate need. However, using a non-existent culture as a centre point for attracting talent is really not wise, and creating a scene for this purpose is desperately misguided.

Somehow I think the arbiters of taste (those who make financial decisions on culture) either don’t understand their constituents, or don’t understand the implications of supporting mostly banality – it’s quite likely both.”

You want brain drain? It isn’t engineers that we are missing. From Arts and culture fail miserably in Waterloo Region – I need to hear from YOU

About this Vital Signs report

It’s only gotten worse.

“From 2011 – 2012, people working in the culture sectors have declined from nearly 9000 in Waterloo Region to 6000. That is a whopping 3000 fewer arts and culture workers in a region that already suffered from too few to begin with.

“Now look at that pie chart. The largest piece of the pie represents all the gears and mechanics going into the arts and culture sector: technical employees.

“The creative arts on that pie represents 1120 workers. That means just a little over 1/6th of people doing cultural things in the city are actually involved in the creative arts instead of creative commercial business. Not negating the rest of the culture pie you see there, but this is a miserable number. Half a million people in Waterloo Region.. 1120 working in creative arts – likely includes organizational administrators and others similar – not purely the creative artists themselves – I wonder what that number would be. Your odds of meeting someone born  with 11 fingers or toes (1:500) are close to your odds of meeting a genuine, bonafide working artist in Waterloo Region.

“This is abysmal. What a hell of a failure, Waterloo Region.”

And then the part that I never wanted to attach to you because I have such memory of you as a compassionate person who lets his strength flow from a deep and good place…

The lack of authenticity and concern

“Can we stop listening to business people about building the arts community now, and start talking to the arts community about building their own? If I need to know about a car, I ask a mechanic. If I need to know about my persistent toothache, I talk to my dentist. Why does the city think the mechanic can cure the toothache without making the pain worse??

“Successful business acumen doesn’t lead to understanding in the arts. These operations run on a shoestring budget – some hiring up to 200 artists in a year (MT Space) on an operating budget less than a single C-Level executive salary in a tech company – and they persist! Condescension on behalf of enabling organizations (there’s a backward thing for you), goonish behaviour on behalf of our bureaucrats and a serious desire to be hands off is destroying the core culture of this Region. The problems are extensive: From funding to facilities. From zoning to endless red tape covered permits. Art here needs to be more than a function of economic development, even if it does develop the economy.”

So for goodness sake, Michael Litt, and all the other tech leaders bemoaning our lack of scene – you are killing the thing you are crying over.  If you want it back? Start supporting what’s here.

Put your money where your mouth is. I challenge you, and other tech leaders to stop with the bs rhetoric about how we need the arts to attract talent and start supporting the talent you have.

We should have a Christie Digital Centre for Inter Arts

We should have CAFKA and IMPACT both floated with unique budgets of over 200k just by industry/tech here alone

Kultrun needs to be supported as a cultural home for the many, many people who benefit from their programming in music that makes the soul connect to here even if “home” is a notion of distance and separation

We should have Night\Shift (most recently defunct and deeply mourned) and Summer Lights be thrumming with energy for their one-night art party wonderlands, instead of having them struggle to pay the artists who make this happen for the entire region

We should have the Vidyard Grand River Film Festival

We should have the OpenText Kitchener Waterloo Symphony

The Conrad Centre should be the Waterloo Region Centre for the Performing Arts

We should have KWAG have a list including you and your colleagues as diamond level sponsors

Boehmer Box art throwdown

If only they didn’t treat artist like children.

Much like a startup’s needs are wildly different from OpenText, an individual artist has entirely different needs than a theatre company. A big complaint is about our lack of unity… and this, frankly, does not exist. We are all artists, but we are not cut from the same cloth. Asking us to toe a line and ask for the same things is like trying to sandwich Christie Digital in with company of two that develop wicked websites. There is no lack of unity but instead a diversity. And this is what makes us so damned strong, so completely resilient enough to stay in one of the toughest cities in Canada to get a break despite the endless attempts to throttle anything from happening here in any real, connected way.

We should have an arts centre that is strongly supported, funded, and a home for an arts council who can express the diverse needs of our community. There needs to be homes for visual arts, for theatre arts, for music that are not top down governmental impositions placing banal and boring speakers and workshops in front of our talent.

We should have governmental support around our bricks and mortar institutions. Where the Kitchener Aud building is budget line, Centre in the Square, THEMUSEUM, the Canadian Clay and Glass, the Button Factory all struggle to keep their roofs from leaking. And most of these are owned by the cities and region… This is egregious and desperately sad. We are a region that does not cherish its cultural assets and this needs to change. By saying this, I am saying that we are a region that doesn’t cherish its stories. We are a region that doesn’t cherish its people. Because always, and ultimately, art in all of its differences and manifestations are narratives representing our reality as a society. By killing the arts, you kill your own stories, the voices of the people who live, work, and play here. You drop out of the timelines of history and out of public importance. No wonder your perception is that no one wants to move here (despite the ever growing vast suburbia encroaching on wild and farmlands at every turn). No wonder you think we don’t exist. You haven’t listened to our stories.

We need you to support us because you need us. Just like we need you. Symbiosis.

So I add to my challenge of supporting the arts financially – get outside, here in Waterloo. You chose to stay here for good reasons but you seem more divorced than ever from these. Go to openings. Go to shows. Get to the galleries. It may be intimidating at first but just in the same way I used real, alive language here, there are so many of us who would love to tell you the stories about why the things here, made here, being shown here matter – including me. I would love to be a docent to show you an entire world of voice that you and your tech sector colleagues are missing. Support the arts, Michael. Don’t just be an industry leader but become one of the many important Canadians who truly help to build our cultural narratives representing diversity and change right here in Waterloo Region. Stop spouting this nonsense put out by the bureaucrats and bean counters. You and your colleagues are the people who can make a difference – a real honest difference, just by looking into the grassroots and putting your time and work into caring.

Text from my talk Monday 14th of December to City Council

Here’s the text from the talk that I couldn’t give in its fullness due to finding out a change in funding to the CEI. It is still pertinent. The CEI should not use another pinch of money to close its doors.

Presenters from the arts community included Janice Lee, Martin de Groot, Robert Linsley, Duncan Finnegan, and Gordon Hatt.

City of Kitchener Council

Thank you councilors for allowing me and my colleagues to come and speak to you on a matter that is near and dear to us as a functional, organised, and very active sector in this city.

I want to start by expressing my respect for both Roger Farwell, and Debbie Currie as two hard working, well intentioned, and great people in the city. They have tried hard to build something meaningful, and it wasn’t without successes, but at this point, the successes are over, and belabouring the closure of this organisation with the building out of two unwanted initiatives is only directing money away from where it most necessary: back into the arts.

Thanks to the CEI’s own work we realised that the arts sector is short by up to 5 million in funding based on 50 arts organizations – not just the 5 pillars.

Thanks to the municipalities for recognising the need and moving money to the arts.

The dollar per capita amount was critical, but it didn’t help the entire sector. In going strictly to the pillars, the real needs of those who animate the city: the creators and innovators were left to starve. In the past years, dozens of artists have moved away from this community, and we have seen next to no growth in new organisations that create art.

As a sector, the makers of culture, the makers of art are more than ever critically underfunded, and underresourced. And the CEI’s current priorities do not address any of the critical priorities or needs facing our sector. The new priorities are entirely duplications of other services (as they have said themselves), or are not repairable (in the sake of Grand Social) in the budget and timeline indicated.

So, what do we need?

In the formation of the CEI, We were promised access to private sector and increased funding through capacity around this access – Many arts organisations had private sector funding prior to the CEI that was diverted to the CEI through their closer business connections.

Most of the money given to the CEI did not see its way to the small to medium arts organizations. Some organizations saw support, but the ability to build new, and grow became completely absent. The lack of transparency, and the determination of who was funded and why became a point of contention. There was the “hot dog cart” fund, but of $750k, this represented only $53k. Access to private sector is critical. This is a dire need for any organisation to assemble a good financial portfolio to build sustainability.

We desperately need space. My colleague Majdi spoke to this matter so eloquently just last week. I must, however, add that every single practice in the arts from film, to the individual visual artist, to the musician looking for a jam hall is desperate for infrastructure to build, to practice, to create. Artists are not culture industries, artists are not content creators, their work often lies in a different business model that cannot sustain the increasingly high costs of space in Kitchener.

Money could be used to create a space building initiative, like ArtScape in Toronto – a very successful model of public and private funding to create permanent and meaningful infrastructure.

Lastly, we need more funding into sustainability and innovation. The Arts Fund and similar ventures are best suited to making decisions about the arts. We have experimented with good intentions over the past five years without artists active in decision making around things that concern them most. And it shows.

We see successful models of peer-based decision-making in funding in other cities, at the provincial level, and at the national level. We need support around innovation. We need to be able to identify good practices and get money to them to increase the capacity of their practices. We need to give talent an incentive to stay here, and create a vibrant arts scene. We need to build increased sustainability around the organisations that mentor, and create opportunities for other artists – such as Neruda, Inter-Arts Matrix, MT Space, and hopefully, one day, my own.

When it comes to these other two initiatives, do we give money to build another org that duplicates place-making like CAFKA, only to hand it off? Who takes on that initiative when it is half built? Are they required to follow a model that they haven’t built? And the website, as a tech professional who has a 20 year history in web, and online communication, I can attest that 15k and 1 year isn’t going to help Grand Social.

Communitech is an excellent model. The reason why it worked is that it was built by tech for tech. It was built by the people who understood the business of making a productive sector from the inside out. They maintained a status as tech association until they realised that investing in innovation in startups could be a benefit to the entire sector.

They built a culture of practice and have made Kitchener one of the most desirable places to start a tech business. But only they could do this themselves. Traditional business does not face the challenges of tech. The same goes for the arts. The CEI is not an arts organization, nor has it ever been. It is a business organization imposed on the arts.

With the shuttering of the CEI at the end of this year, I urge you to hold this last pocket of funding instead of pouring so much money into unnecessary, unwanted, and dysfunctional final projects. We, as artists, have been organising around building a new council that will be purpose driven to help the arts where they need it most. It has a clear mission, a clear function, and has been built on two years of community consultation across the disciplines in the arts – there is no need to spend another dime in hiring external consultation. I urge you to take a sober second look and put this money where it will make an enormous difference instantly for an entire sector – back into the arts.


Open call for submissions – Waterloo Region show – EXTENDED


OPEN CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – Extended to the 20th of JULY

Collective Identity is a new open collective of professional artists in Waterloo Region established for the purpose of mounting a show of original professional arts with a regional focus. The hope of Collective Identity is to revive a regional annual, or biannual to build solidarity and celebrate our talented and committed community.

From Wednesday September 17th – Sunday October 4th, 2015, artists will take over a premiere downtown space for a show named Fast Forward Waterloo Region. This loosely themed show is focused on the future: the future of us as a creative community. We, the creative community, are the lifeblood of the culture of this region. Some of the themes that are being worked on are:

  • Transit and transportation
  • Urbanity and landscape
  • Food, food security
  • Culture and multiculture

Whether you build something that fits into these ideas, or your work reflects a concept outside of these, we call on you to submit a proposal.

We are looking for submissions from professional artists who live currently within the boundaries of Waterloo Region. In this we are looking for work that lives on the wall, off the wall, performance, pop-up theatre, music, sound and noise installation, makers, inter-arts, digital arts, film… we want to hear what you want to build.

As a professional artist-run collective, we recognize that our peers in the arts need to make a living. We will be running fundraisers and finding sponsorships to build compensation packages for your submissions. There is no fee for submission. Submissions will be accepted until July 20th, 2015 July 11th, 2015. (Call extended due to popular request)

Proposals and either a one-page bio, or CV no longer than two pages can be submitted to: terre@mycontention.com 

First Builders. A Self Guided Hike Honouring 10,000 Years of Settlement -Photoblog #BuildWR


The entrance to the First Builders hike along the Grand River at the Cambridge RARE Charitable Research Reserve is on Blair Rd. The place is easy to spot with a gorgeous old barn – the RARE Slit Barn marks the beginning of a spectacular walking journey. If approaching from Cambridge – it is after the Springbank Farm (a must visit in its own right), and on the right side of the road. If approaching from Kitchener, you pass Blair Village and Langdon Hall before you arrive at this barn. It’s on the left. Stop at the house – you will find trail maps, and they are necessary. I only had my smartphone, but I do recommend bringing a proper camera to the site. It’s worth the weight of carrying it.

14831813855_4d47611ce8_kThe trail is easy to spot: it is currently gated by an installation created as a part of CAFKA. IMITATE forces the even short walker (I am 5’1″) to duck beneath the woven wood as one enters the trailhead. Once past the gate, you will be immediately flooded with the scent of wild bergamot, wild tarragon, flowers and grasses. Despite the sounds of the nearby road, the effect is profound and instant. This is a meadow. Full or birds, bees, insects and wildlife, RARE transports us instantly out of the hustle of cars and into an ancient landscape.

Osprey Tower

The first gem on the hike is an Osprey Tower. Long before we entered into range to see the bird, we heard her. The image isn’t great, but she stayed stationed there calling to her mate throughout the several minutes it took to traverse the meadow


Did you realise that this used to be Tundra? Of course we knew our landscape was carved by glaciers, but here’s a real reminder.


The next site describes the floodplain. The signage is clear, and nicely descriptive.

Dense trail

The trail becomes dense and the plants are well grown into the space. It would not be foolish to prepare for ticks whilst walking here.

Joe Pye Weed

There are huge stands of Joe Pye Weed, and several other butterfly and bee beneficial plants. We did also spot some Giant Hogweed, so unless you know your plants well, stay on the trail.

mystery plant

An oddity… what is this? Between two gardeners (one who is also a horticulturalist) we could not identify this plant tangling over the Joe Pye Weed. Any ideas?

The Grand River

The views of the Grand River are spectacular. Bring binoculars and a camera. In a few minutes we spotted several species of birds.

A good stretch

Just before leaving the banks of the Grand, have a stretch and a rest. The trail moves into the woods, and along bluffs. Wear good footwear – lots of rocks and roots. Mosquito repellant would go a long way to increasing enjoyment of the walk as well.

Boreal Landscapes

The next sign describes the shifting climate. The Tundra gave way to the Boreal.

Cedar grove

The undergrowth give way in a cedar grove that stretches. The trees cling to the bluffs and the area is scented deeply with cedar and wild geranium.

A darker place

This is a darker place in the woods. One could imagine a good spot for a Tim Burton gothic horror.

Early human arrival.

Ah! Settlement. Early human arrival. The landscape breathes new life.


Another special place. This tree stood in the centre of a circle in a grove of maples. No undergrowth. Tarry here a while. A beautiful spot to have a snack and take in some water.

Rocks roots and cliffs

Rocks, roots, and cliffs. It is easy to forget that this is in Cambridge. The earth jetties out in limestone cliff formations, and moss settles on everything. Whilst wandering here, be very careful of poison ivy encroaching. It’s not on the trail, but under no circumstances should the trail be left, especially if you are unsure on how to identify this plant. The three-leaf plants you can see here? Not poison ivy.

Deciduous forest and cliffs

Deciduous forest and cliffs. This is a northern reach of the Carolinian forest on a landscape that looks more like the Bruce Trail. A very unique spot.

Award winning international architect Alison Brooks to lecture at PI – #BuildWR

Living in Waterloo Region does present gems… very soon, we will be introduced to one of the most important architects in the world. Alison Brooks is lecturing at the PI on July 30th from 7:30 – 10:00 for free – as a part of Building Waterloo Region.

Brooks finished her studies in architecture at the University of Waterloo in 1988 when she soon after moved to the UK to work with Ron Arad. She became a partner in Ron Arad Associates. Brooks established her own practice in London UK in 1996. Showing spectacular design and innovation, she has won several awards.

Being fond of architecture, but not the most educated about the names of the people who create spaces that matter, I had to look into her more. Among the several exquisitely designed spaces I found this:

Alison Brooks - Tribeca

Alison Brooks – Tribeca: from http://www.alisonbrooksarchitects.com/

There is such a challenge in taking on the old, and building around it. The older structures must be respected, and shown in all their beauty. Complicated window casings, interesting roofline, and even flourishing details that matched the aesthetic sensibilities of the time. Brooks takes on an incredible challenge in creating new buildings in a modern aesthetic.

There is the challenge of respecting a pre-existing space with all the voices and histories, but also adding a new voice. Much like any language, the visual language is tricky – relying deeply on metaphors, impressions and cues. It would be so easy to create buildings that ignore their surroundings. The countless cinder-block rectangles in every city speak to this laziness in design. This grouping in Tribeca, however, maybe be in an updated, even avant-garde language, but the voice of the new buildings speak in a common tongue. The older building in the centre is sharply accentuated by buildings of a similar feel. The flourish doesn’t exist in the modern buildings, but their roofline draw attention to the old, showcasing it. The older building is turned into the equivalent of a gemstone in a stunningly tasteful surround – where nothing is garish but all working in harmony.

Beyond building design, Brooks has designed density housing. Using design to focus on healthy lives in dense spaces, Brooks’s spaces receive accolades for being spaces in which grass-roots communities thrive. The neighbourhoods encourage pedestrian movement an interaction between neighbours. The streets are often used for street socials. These are safe, lived-in, and practical spaces designed around the needs of community.

Waterloo Region could use a dose of her design.

Photoblog – Downton Abbey to That Seventies Show: Fashion, architecture and design collide #BuildWR

Street Style

The Waterloo Region Museum (with partners Fashion History Museum) is currently exhibiting Street Style –  focusing on fashion and architecture in the Region of Waterloo. The exhibit is on of the many shows presented as a part of Building Waterloo Region – a festival focusing on architecture and design excellence.

The floor opens with a show film, morphing a dancing from decade to decade, changing the music, fashion and architecture behind them. The style of dance is also made to match the decade of design.

Following is a lineup of mannequins dressed in costume from La Belle Epoque to The Trench.

Compositionally, the exhibit is exquisite, featuring clothing design juxtaposed with architectural design. In spaces that would normally serve as negative space, the gallery wall images of Waterloo Region buildings echo the structure in the costumes themselves. The result is uncanny: a concert of geometries and flourishes orchestrated in symphonic harmony. Even if you are uninterested in women’s fashion or architecture throughout the decades, this exhibit presents some tantalizing eye-candy for the lover of design.

Fabric swatchesThe opposite wall of the exhibit has a timeline, contextualizing women’s fashion, architecture, art movements, world events – drawing parallels between radical changes and design itself. Someone the later leading the former. Also for the tactile types, there are mounted swatches of fabric for the express purpose of touching.

Now wait for it: There are also shoes.

The image below are presented in an order – first are general images of the costumes, second are images of juxtapositions that I found particularly interesting. Finally… there are shoes.

Details down to the complex undergarments

Details down to the complex undergarments

La Belle Epoque etais belle

La Belle Epoque etais belle

Regal coats and bustles

Regal coats and bustles

Trains and geometrics

Trains and geometrics

Glamorous gowns, and hats.  Elaborate design.

Glamorous gowns, and hats. Elaborate design.

Details down to gloves, umbrellas, hats and shoes.

Details down to gloves, umbrellas, hats and shoes.

A last breath of bombastic Edwardian matched with downtown fronts

A breath of bombastic Edwardian matched with downtown fronts

Downtown ladies. Laces, velvets, frills.

Downtown ladies. Laces, velvets, frills.

The Late Edwardian lady - simplicity with stunning detail.

The Late Edwardian lady – simplicity with stunning detail.

Decades of transition. Late Edwardian, First World War to 20s Swinging.

Decades of transition. Late Edwardian, First World War to 20s Swinging. In a few decades, hemlines went up. Emphasis on gender goes down.

Simple 30s Depression to the Second World War working woman.

Simple 30s Depression to the Second World War working woman. I need to re-photograph this one… Apologies for the poor quality. It may be my favourite transition.

Wartime simplicity. Austerity and heavy geometries.

Wartime simplicity. Austerity and heavy geometries.

Forties and Fifties formalities and frivolities.

Forties and Fifties formalities and frivolities.

Clean lines, sharp design.

Clean lines, sharp design.

Lovely late Fifties and Sweet Sixties colours and lengths.

Lovely late Fifties and Sweet Sixties colours and lengths.

60s minidress polyester crimplene and heavy geometrics.

60s minidress polyester crimplene and heavy geometrics.

Patchwork peasant Seventies.

Patchwork peasant Seventies.

The Trench. And a slick silk.

The Trench. And a slick silk.

The following are photographed considering the negative space with the costumed mannequins. 

IMG_20140619_154515 IMG_20140619_154527 IMG_20140619_154609 IMG_20140619_154617 IMG_20140619_154631 IMG_20140619_154659 IMG_20140619_154719 IMG_20140619_154727 IMG_20140619_154743 IMG_20140619_154758 IMG_20140619_154808 IMG_20140619_154821 IMG_20140619_154834 IMG_20140619_154851 IMG_20140619_154933 IMG_20140619_154942


And finally… Shoes.

IMG_20140619_154207 IMG_20140619_154040 IMG_20140619_154220 IMG_20140619_154235 IMG_20140619_154307 IMG_20140619_154326 IMG_20140619_154335 IMG_20140619_154312 IMG_20140619_154244 IMG_20140619_154227 IMG_20140619_154156


Those of you who made it this far deserve a final treat. Detail from the Late Edwardian lace bodice and the back of the lace Edwardian coat. These is are exquisite pieces.

Late Edwardian Bodice -Lace Detail

Late Edwardian Bodice -Lace Detail


More than music and sound, Open Ears is a full calendar of art

My favourite festivals are soon to start. We are right around the corner from CAFKA and Open Ears.

I will be running photos and reviews about the art of CAFKA as I stumble upon it in my journeys through downtown.

Open Ears is a less simple event to describe before seeing. When I try to talk about it, I like to describe it as a full orchestra of intrigue presented in a calendar of events related by brilliant curation.

Sound is all around us. From the droning of in-building HVAC and fans, to outdoor constancy of cars, wildlife, winds, we are constantly tuning out by being constantly tuned in.

From June 5 – 15 we will be asked to open our ears and tune back in. The full calendar will include a trio of new Canadian operas. Think of it… when was the last time you heard a new opera.

Another highlight is a presentation of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. This play was written by Iranian author Nassim Soleimonpour. Up until recently, he had never seen the play that he had written. This play is presented in a novel format: The readers of the play are not given the script until they are ready to go on stage. There they see it for the first time as they read it live. The nature of this transcends the disconnect of a playwright who for years was never able to see his creation. The echo of the unrehearsed voice mirroring the voice of the censored writer… a truly revolutionary piece of theatre.

Open Ears will be presenting it read by Majdi Bou Matar – multi-talented artistic director of the MT Space, Nora YoungCBC tech culture personality, Mike Farwell – radio host, Kitchener Rangers announcer and local philanthropist, and Grace Lynn Kungactor from the cult film Hypercube, and starred in Being Erica and InSecurity.

I will leave you with a final highlight. What is sure to be a pleasing presentation is by artist Shary Boyle. This outstanding artist was featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Boyle will be bringing new work to Open Ears, but here’s a taste of a previous work.

Open your mind at Open Ears

Tim Grier and I caught up with Gregory Oh – the artistic director from Open Ears. We had a wee chat with him about the upcoming festival.  Here’s a bit of a video. As for the written content of this blog post, I do think Oh describes the experience of the festival best in his own words.

“I think we walk around on any given day and we’re not even aware of the sounds we hear. We hear sounds of construction and cars and we learn to tune things out …we learn to almost stop listening, because there’s so much happening in the world, and if you try to listen to everything you become oversaturated.

“But the danger there is that you close off your world to some very beautiful things, like church bells, or the sound of nature… I gotta say I love the sound of traffic and of people bustling around and of random conversations in the street.

“I think Open Ears is about always keeping yourself open to new experiences, always learning, always creating and …the world is an amazing place and you can just find things if you’ll just open up your ears….”