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Giving a voice to Edmonton artists

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Artists in the Fallow is an organization of like-minded artists that was established during the summer of 2021. Their goal is to engage local Edmonton artists that were unable to showcase their work during the pandemic and carve out a space for local artists to re-enter the arts scene.

Royden Mills, a professor in the Art and Design Program at the University of Alberta, created the organization, and what started out simply as a conversation about engaging the community in art has evolved into an exhibition of art in alternative spaces.

“We started looking for ways to get art into the public again,” explains Micheal Cor, the interim director of Artists in the Fallow. So initially, a small group of artists gathered to create public chalk art displays under bridges across the city.

That quickly grew into a much bigger initiative when Brighton Block became available, and the Primavera Development Group donated the space for Artists in the Fallow to use during the summer and into the fall.

Artists in the Fallow had two shows at Brighton Block this past year, one in July, and another show in September. Both shows spanned all five floors of the historic building, and art was featured on the understated brick walls, placed on the simple concrete floors, and even oozing around the wooden pillars, like something straight out of Star Trek.

“We’re trying to activate other alternative spaces and (find) a way to give artists a space to work,” says Cor.

Art of all shapes and sizes was accepted into the art shows. There were marble sculptures, tapestries, charcoal drawings, and even a display featuring a mysterious array of unicorn-themed items.

Over 90 local artists were able to showcase their work in the art exhibitions, and because the space was so large, “we really didn’t have to omit work,” says Cor. “We were able to invite people and show all the work that was given.”

Cor says that these exhibitions have become “somewhat of a legacy project,” and the Primavera developers as well as the artists involved were all excited to have an opportunity to engage with the space.

Giving artists a space to showcase their work during the pandemic has also been a vital part of their organization.

“A lot of the (arts) organizations, the public ones especially, have had a hard time figuring out how to open up and how to engage the public (after lockdown),” says Cor. “Some of the smaller galleries that would normally show local work have been shut down for the last while, or the shows have been restricted quite a bit, so it’s just been a really nice opportunity to (showcase local art in Brighton Block) and… get a chance to breathe again.”

The art showcased in Brighton Block features art from young, emerging artists alongside older, more experienced artists. It was important to Artists in the Fallow to feature such a nuanced mix of artists, explains Cor, because all artists, no matter their age, bring a unique perspective and engage with the space differently.

However, since these art shows were put on so quickly in the summer, Cor notes that most of the artists involved were from a small pool of contacts. In the future, he hopes that Artists in the Fallow can showcase a greater variety of local Edmonton art — not only art from those who are involved in the academic art scene. “There are a lot of artists in Edmonton that really don’t have the potential to show (their art), and those are the ones that we want to cater to,” says Cor.

In addition to art, Artists in the Fallow also hosted a variety of panel talks that explored topics from satire in art to psychedelic horror. These were a way to further engage with the community and get community members interested in art. Cor says that all the artists who had art on display were asked if there was a topic they wanted to explore in the panels, and this led to some discussions that Cor says he would never have thought of himself.

Additionally, Artists in the Fallow hosted artist talks, which gave the artists an opportunity to discuss their work, and round tables that explored topics such as “How do arts organizers approach safer spaces and the artist as provocateur?” and “What is the Artist’s Role and how do arts organizations approach community outreach?” that were outlined in a press release.

But Artists in the Fallow’s foray into alternative spaces in Edmonton also brings up important issues that will be addressed in their installations in the future, such as the erasure of communities in Chinatown, and limited representation for Black artists. “We might be coming into a community that is experiencing things that we might not be sensitive to and it’s (important) for us to figure out how to engage that community in a constructive way,” says Cor.

Cor explains that Artists in the Fallow will continue evolving to fully embrace their status as an organization and embrace the potential they have to help artists in Edmonton. If the opportunity arises, Cor says that Artists in the Fallow would look at expanding into another alternative space in Edmonton. “There’s lots of exciting spaces around town that I’m interested in,” says Cor, “and there are so many empty spaces especially now, spaces that have been empty for a long time, much longer than the pandemic that would be really interesting to engage.”

The initial idea behind Artists in the Fallow, was to host a residency in Brighton Block so artists could build a body of work and then display it in an exhibition at the end of the residency, and Cor still plans on implementing this program in the future.

Artists in the Fallow have access to Brighton Block until November, and they plan on holding an Open Studio Day where the community will be able to look at all the work that has been done in the building.

Check out their Instagram: @artistsinthe for more information.

Photos: Brett Boyd

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