Juried Exhibition at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

By Amy Sellors

For an artist, any opportunity to show their work is exciting. You never know who will see your work and what that may bring. Last held in 2019, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s NWO NOW Juried Exhibition is the largest public exhibition of northern Ontario artists in the country. “It’s important for contemporary artists working in northern Ontario to have a venue of this calibre to showcase their work. It’s a big place,” says Penelope Smart, curator at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. “Contemporary art opportunities in Northern Ontario are limited and often, our artists often have to apply outside of the region for their work to be seen. This is an opportunity to see what artists are making here at home.”

The juried exhibition is an important piece of programming for the gallery. For an artist, “it’s an opportunity to grow your career and experience professionalism in the art world for the first time,” says Smart. “It’s a chance to get started, to build your CV, and a chance to have your art seen by curators and art professionals.”

Snowy Owl – Flight, Eric Lahtinen, ceramic

And the exhibition isn’t just for new artists—it represents a mix of artists who have shown before and some who are showing in a gallery for the first time. “This is why it takes place,” says Smart. “It’s a chance for discovery, for newness, and firsts. Artists apply often for this show. Young, mid-career, senior…some who have shown in large galleries and some who are showing for the first time.”

This show supports the work of artists in the region who are trying new things, and there’s no specific theme the artists have to adhere to. The exhibition is open to whatever the art is saying, and represents all different types of artists working in all different types of ways. This year, 218 works were submitted. Jurors Anong Migwans Beam and Maria Hupfield—themselves well-known, established artists with connections to Northwestern Ontario—had seven to ten days individually to review the submissions. Over two days, they decided together which works would be shown, and also where and how the pieces would be displayed, acting as curators to arrange the pieces in a way that delivers the most impact.

After some tough decisions, 72 pieces were selected, representing the work of 60 artists. The pieces represent many mediums: sculpture, beading, textile, media, painting, and more. Beam and Hupfieldsaw in the submissions a “celebration of where we live and life in the north,” says Smart.

In a show like this, artists never know who will see their work, and they have the opportunity to see their work in relation to their peers. “There are exciting artists who submit to the show and younger artists might be really excited to have their work displayed in the same room,” says Smart. “The juried show shines a light on the artists of Northwestern Ontario as individuals and as a group. All boats rise. It’s our beacon shining out, as opposed to being worried about who is paying attention.”

Do not underestimate the power of seeing art in person. This is work that represents a special and challenging time for artmaking in Northwestern Ontario. These new works have been created in the last two years, and tell stories of the north. It’s what the artists are thinking and feeling right now. Whatever you take away from seeing this collection in person, it will leave you thinking about your own connection to Northwestern Ontario and the creative work that exists here.

The NWO NOW Juried Exhibition runs at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery from January 13 to March 19, 2023. Visit theag.ca for more information.

Featured image: Mystic, Beverly Turpin, watercolour