'The rest is history'

Heidi Wicks
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Two decades ago, the planets alligned to create the Pouch Cove Foundation artist residency program

Although it initially happened by mistake, the Pouch Cove Foundation artist residency program has been inspiring and encouraging artists to relocate to Newfoundland, break up with their partners, marry their lovers, and myriad other things.

"Stupidity," says James Baird, program proprietor, on how the residency program began. He does not flinch.

Just when you think he's serious, he chuckles. "Honestly, I knew absolutely nothing about artist residency programs. I had co-signed a loan for two guys for a fine dining restaurant just north of St. John's - if that rings any 'Rare Birds' (novel and film by local author Ed Riche) bells - and the guys buggered off and I had to pay the mortgage. So I figured, what will I use a building at the end of the Earth for?

Some of the work available at the April 30 auction at the Deleon White Gallery in Toronto include (from left) Steve Driscoll's "Into the Woods," urethane on panel and Jeannie Thib's "Flutter," screenprint. Submitted photos

Although it initially happened by mistake, the Pouch Cove Foundation artist residency program has been inspiring and encouraging artists to relocate to Newfoundland, break up with their partners, marry their lovers, and myriad other things.

"Stupidity," says James Baird, program proprietor, on how the residency program began. He does not flinch.

Just when you think he's serious, he chuckles. "Honestly, I knew absolutely nothing about artist residency programs. I had co-signed a loan for two guys for a fine dining restaurant just north of St. John's - if that rings any 'Rare Birds' (novel and film by local author Ed Riche) bells - and the guys buggered off and I had to pay the mortgage. So I figured, what will I use a building at the end of the Earth for?

"It's got this amazing view, and I was in Toronto and ran into this artist. I asked her if she wanted to come to Newfoundland, she said yes, and the rest is history," he says.

Nancy Kembry was that Toronto artist. After spending time in Pouch Cove back in 1990, Kembry wrote about the experience in Toronto and New York, and through word of mouth the location gained popularity. Since then, dozens of artists have spent time in Pouch Cove, and many have permanently relocated to Newfoundland as a result.

"If Nancy had been a pain in the ass, the program probably would have ended right there," Baird admits. "First we had one studio for one month of the year, which grew into six studios for six months of the year, which grew into 12. It just started off very small and continued to grow."

In 2003, the facility moved into a former elementary school, and has had people from around the globe visit, including filmmakers, musicians and artists. There is now a two-year waiting list for artists who would like to spend time at the Pouch Cove Foundation.

"We started getting applications when Nancy wrote about it, and I guess what really turned it up is that we started getting rather senior Canadian artists - people like Harold Klunder and John Hartman. So when people got word that those guys were coming, they wanted to know what it was all about. We originally took applications, it was raw and people just would say, 'Can I come' and I'd say 'Yes.' But it got to the point where we got so many applications, that we evolved it into invitation only. We don't promote ourselves, we don't advertise, and we get on average two or three people per day who say they want to come."

Artist residencies typically run the gamut from retreat-based to professional development to public education to tourism-based operations.

"We started specifically as a retreat and originally the residencies were almost exclusively 30-day residencies," Baird recalls. "Anything shorter just didn't work by the time people got here and got disconnected from their lives. Now, we're finding that people come here for at least 60 to 120 days, and they are more professional development based, meaning that they often end up with exhibitions based upon their Newfoundland work."

What's unique about this organization is that it has not received any government funding - and as former treasurer of the LSPU Hall, Baird is familiar with how arts organizations are normally funded. Pouch Cove Foundation is completely self-funded and has never received any government contributions, surviving solely on the strength of the people who want to attend.

"We would like to be blessed with government funding, but we've never received any. ACOA told us what we were doing wasn't worthwhile," Baird says. Even over the phone, you get the sense he's rolling his eyes. "But the economic impact of the residency program has been in the millions. I just pulled off the highway into the valley in Torbay, for example, and the big house on the corner belongs to an American artist whose partner is a real estate developer. It's a matter of thinking outside the box. There are a number of buildings around this province that could be utilized in this way."

Baird also says more than 40 of the artists who have participated in the residency have bought homes here, and some of them never left.

"I know of more than a few that never went back to their old lives because they get to evaluate what they're doing in their lives while they're here. We've had honeymoons, anniversaries, divorces, adulterous affairs, broken legs, broken arms, broken hearts - you name it."

Still, he insists that this project is not a business.

"I've never had any income from this, it's been a labour of love. The connections you make with people have transformed my life and my family's life over the years. We've had an amazing 20 years and it's really interesting to see people who were just soldiering along all those years ago, who are now art stars."

He adds that the program is also a way of promoting the province, in a non-commercial way.

"Most of our artists are American and European. When you talk about the promotions that the province does for all that makes us (Newfoundland and Labrador) unique, for all the ads the province has run, so many artists have gone back to Nashville, Edinburgh, London, San Francisco, or wherever, and showcased their work from Newfoundland. There's no telling what impact that has for people in those exhibitions because their paintings are hanging on the walls of people all over the world."

The annual auction for Pouch Cove Foundation will occur April 30 at the Deleon White Gallery in Toronto. For more information, visit http://www.pouchcove.org/index2.html.

Organizations: Pouch Cove Foundation, Deleon White Gallery

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Toronto, Pouch Cove St. John's New York Torbay Nashville Edinburgh London San Francisco

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