Culture and art are key pillars of identity and a strong sense of self. The two are intertwined and have a profound impact on one another. One inspires the other and vice versa. Art can’t exist without culture to inform it, and culture can’t develop without an artistic flair to call its own.
A laughable stereotype that befalls rural communities is the implied lack of cultural and artistic opportunities. For some reason the myth exists that because a place is isolated from an urban centre it therefore must lack ‘culture’. That’s hilarious to me - if anything, rural culture here is more carved out, more noticeable, more abundant - because it’s had time to develop its own signature style.
Before we dive into one heck-of-a list of awe-inspiring artistic and cultural happenings you can experience in Grey County, let’s take a moment to define what these things are. For me, the arts is an incredibly elastic term. It’s more than art galleries and music festivals; it can mean pretty well anything: visual art, music, poetry, all that good stuff - but it can also be linked to fashion, architecture, and urban design. Culture is equally as broad, but helps to develop the parameters that regional art or ideas can exist under: culture is a feeling, a sense of belonging, an expression of technique and behaviour. Culture is the way the demolition derby at the Fall Fair makes you feel, or the weird, undeniable sense of community you might feel at the Fish Tent (we’ll explain later). So for the sake of this blog, we’ll agree art and culture can’t really exist without one another.
If you’re looking for classic art of the visual variety, Grey County is home to a number of indescribable talents working in all of the mediums you’ve come to expect: painting, sculpture, glass-blowing, woodworking, pottery, graphic design, photography and video - you name it, there’s a world-class group or individual here making work. To find these folks, there are multiple ways to get out and enjoy their work.
One personal favourite is the Walter’s Falls Group of Artists annual summer exhibition, simply titled The Show. Taking place on August 26-28, 2022 in the heartland of Grey County’s rolling hills, it’s an impressive showcase of local talent that you shouldn’t miss. The Owen Sound Art Walk is another such annual show, manifesting as a self-guided tour of Owen Sound’s River District in 8 locations including the Georgian Bay Centre for the Arts, Grey Gallery, Heartwood Home, Intersections WOOD Gallery & Studio, Jean Francis Studio, the Owen Sound Library, Owen Sound Artists’ Co-op, and the iconic Tom Thomson Art Gallery.
In Grey Highlands, consider checking out the Flesherton Art Gallery, a unique space dedicated to making art accessible and affordable to the masses, as well as ARTSONTEN Gallery Boutique, a bold, colourful gallery showcasing impressive local art. Opposite highway 10, you’ll find the Durham Art Gallery on Highway 6 in Durham, an ultra modern facility chalked full of cool art to take in. In Meaford, Craig Gallery on the main drag is full of classic local scenes, landscapes, portraiture, and expressionist art. In nearby Clarksburg, the self-professed arts and culture mecca of South Georgian Bay - also literally known as Artsburg - you can stop in every other door on Marsh Street to visit a different, unique gallery, theater, or studio space. Visit the little Beaver River community this August 13th for Artsburg StreetFest, a one day festival celebrating local art, music, culture and food.
If community culture and experiences are more your style - you’re going to be tired as heck after visiting everything Grey County has to offer. Let’s start with some of the big ticket items that should be on your to-do list this summer and every year from now on.
In Hanover, get yourself a ticket to Boots & Brews Country Music Festival at Maclean’s Ales on August 21st, 2022. It’s a banger show hosted by Back Porch Events, a true portal into the world of small town rural culture and genuine country vibes you’ll appreciate, even if lo-fi beats and pop punk are on your Spotify most-listened to list. Set at the brewery itself, you’ll be privy to some of the region’s favourite local suds, fresh from the tanks.
Back north in OS, the Sydenham Sportsmen Association will host the 34th annual Salmon Spectacular fishing derby from August 26th to Sept 4th, 2022 - home to some of the most authentic Grey County culture around. Aptly dubbed the Fish Tent, the derby boasts a beer tent energy like no other, complete with tons of music (shoutout to Shania Twin), fresh-caught fish dinners, and enough chances to run into old friends under the big top to double as your unofficial high school reunion. Go to this. You won’t leave disappointed.
Just down the waterfront, the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival is arguably the be-all-end-all musical experience in Grey Bruce, hosting a top-tier roster of musicians, artisans, food vendors, and entertainment that’s uniquely Grey County. Folk, jazz, roots, blues, hip hop, trad/Celtic, you name it - you’ll hear it at Summerfolk. Insider tip: want the full cultural experience? Opt to camp out for the duration of the festival in late August and take in a few campfire stories from the seasoned veterans in the vicinity.
Come harvest season in September and October, visit Kemble in Georgian Bluffs for some epic rural culture and pumpkin chuckin’ at the annual Kemble Harvest Blowout, where, you guessed it, high-powered potato guns and catapults launch massive gourds into an open field for audience delight (more details to come on that one).
But hey - culture isn’t all about playtime and weekends. Dubbed the Work from Home Capital of Canada, Owen Sound is also home to a budding co-work and social club downtown geared towards getting entrepreneurs and professionals back together in a constructive working environment. Highfive Cowork and Social is a collaborative partnership between the Collingwood Foundry Collective and local culture supply company and magazine, Rrampt. The space provides opportunities to meet and network with others in the area, has screamin’ fast wifi, and even opens their doors to locals every Friday from 4:30-6:30 for the Friday Social, a weekly happy-hour event to relax, unwind, and embrace the professional culture of Grey County’s most populous hub.
What can you do right now? For an easy, fun, and affordable day with kiddos, get yourself a City of Owen Sound ‘open’ card, which gives you membership access privileges to the OS Library, Marine & Rail Waterfront Museum, Billy Bishop Museum, and the TOM (Tom Thomson Art Gallery). You can play, explore, create art, take some books home, feast on local grub, hear local music, and take in some local art and history. On top of that, jump out of town to visit Grey Roots in Rockford to visit their all-new Arctic Voices exhibit. Patrons can also visit Moreston Heritage Village for a look-see into the past, and visit Barry More’s incredible English gardens and labyrinth at Morland Place next door.
Like we said, art and culture are intertwined, and often overlap. Whether it’s music, food, local culture, fine art, or meeting new people hellbent on building a culture of community, you’ll find it in all corners of Grey County.
Guest Writer: Nelson Phillips
Nelson Philips is a Grey County-based writer, creative director, photographer, and publisher. He's one half of local culture company and magazine, Rrampt. You can find him exploring backroads with his family, swimming in Georgian Bay in the offseason, and drinking too many coffees at Highfive Cowork & Social in the Owen Sound River District.