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New 'conversation piece' helps create 'more vibrant' downtown

Local artist Camille Myles proud of art installation in downtown Penetanguishene; 'It makes for a nicer, more vibrant downtown and creates a conversation piece'

Art is a conversation piece, but it can also encourage people to live and work in a certain area. 

Local artist Camille Myles kept that in mind when she was working on the installation she was commissioned to do by the Main Street Art Committee. The piece was revealed a day before Winterama.

A friend showed her the request for proposals issued by the committee. 

"I looked at it and didn't have any ideas about it at that time," Myles said. "Later, in the middle of the night, it just dawned on me and it was a moment of inspiration. I wrote it all night."

The theme was Living the Dream in Penetanguishene, she said. 

"In my art, I like to embrace the present moment and get the interactivity with the spectator," said Myles. "I wanted to create this piece to reflect the whole streetscape. Even if businesses change, the landscape changes, it still defines the present moment."

She worked with another local business, Lafontaine Iron Werks, to put together what is her first public art installation. Everything was put together and built locally, Myles said, except for the 125-centimetre-wide metallic sphere, which was ordered from China.

"We had it manufactured in China because there's no manufacturing company that offers that in Canada or elsewhere," she said. "Everything else was made locally by hand."

The base is on an incline, said Myles, and it feels like the sphere is going to roll down the main street.

"That was purposely done," she said. "The incline is an exaggeration of the Main Street topography." 

A paddle holds up the 2,000-pound sphere, representing the Indigenous past and future in the area, Myles said. 

"The shield in the back focuses on environmental protection," she said. "Our town is surrounded by water but also has a focus on environmental protection. It's anchored also in our future. If we don't have that, a lot of the essence of our town may be lost."

The project first came about with $50,000 in provincial grant money the town received through Art on the Main Street, said Anita Dubeau, Penetanguishene's deputy mayor. 

Council was able to set aside $20,000 from those funds for an arts project on the main street, she said, adding she wasn't sure what was done with the remaining $30,000.

"I know there's rumour on the street that the art project cost $50,000, but that's absolutely incorrect," said Dubeau, adding another $20,000 was budgeted last year for a second project.

Just as an ad-hoc committee brought this together last year, she said, hopefully another such committee will come together in March and plan for a second art installation.  

"The committee has to decide everything," Dubeau said. "Things like should we wait for the 2021 budget and see if we can get some more money and have a larger propject or do we have enough money and seek proposals and see what happens?" 

The town council, she said, is always working on trying to revitalize the main street.

"Right now, we're also doing a CIP (Community Improvement Plan)," Dubeau noted. "We will hopefully get a lot of people out to that and get started with it in spring. There might be grant money available to businesses to revitalize their businesses. All we can do is hope that we will attract businesses from outside to open up businesses in town."

Myles said she thinks having a virbrant arts community in the downtown core helps bring businesses and residents to the area.

"My husband is a realtor and he was touring around a potential doctor and one of her criteria was a cultural, artistic town," she said. "So if we want to attract jobs and people here, we have to have a great art community here.

"It makes for a nicer, more vibrant downtown and creates a conversation piece," Myles said. "The purpose of art is to bring conversation and to make people think about their environment - the sense of place of a town is largely imprinted in its history and its culture."


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Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers municipal issues in Cambridge
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