Celebrating Ten Years of Bringing People Downtown
By Tiffany Jarva
Art hangs on exposed brick of empty spaces. Human mannequins in wearable art act as window displays. A musician bangs his drum. Ten years ago, Urban Infill – Art in the Core was created to help fill up empty spaces with art and revitalize the downtown north core. “Generations of people weren’t coming downtown anymore,” explains Definitely Superior Art Gallery’s executive/artistic director David Karasiewicz. “This was an opportunity to take back those underutilized commercial spaces and convert them into arts and culture venues over a three-month period.”
“In those beginning days I think it was more reassuring for some people to come en masse and rediscover the north core through contemporary art,” explains development/administrator Renee Terpstra. And whether people realize it or not, just coming down and participating in Urban Infill has helped the north core shift into more of an urban retail, arts, and entertainment district. The multi-disciplinary art outreach project has grown significantly over the years (about 300 attended the opening gala in its first year versus 1,500 at last year’s gala) and includes visual art, film, innovative multimedia and digital projects, performance art, dance, wearable art, murals, and music. “It really is a super creative open house,” adds Terpstra.
The majority of empty spaces have been rented or sold and now house restaurants, bar venues, art galleries, shops, studios, and coffee shops. It’s a revitalization model that has been quite successful in Thunder Bay. “It’s the idea that with vision and innovative arts and business, we can fill up the empty spaces in our downtown,” says Karasiewicz. “It was a perfect storm when investment from the Canada Council for the Arts and ArtsVest-Business for the Arts allowed Definitely Superior Art Gallery to spearhead this initiative.” The results went far beyond Thunder Bay. “It put us in the position of influencing other cities to do more in terms of artist and community outreach and business participation—a regional arts success has blossomed not only provincially but nationally.”
Urban Infill – Art in the Core takes place from January – April 2016. Gala Opening is April 9. Pick up art maps at DefSup on Park Street or have a tour guide help you re-discover the Waterfront District. For details visit the event page on Facebook.