One can feel the soul of a community through its Gallery District. Words used to describe ours here in downtown Belleville: vibrant, eclectic, exciting, inviting and accessible.
Bounded on three sides by Front, Bridge and Pinnacle streets (think of a horseshoe), you’ll discover five galleries within easy walking distance of each other: the Belleville Art Association (BAA), Quinte Arts Council (QAC), Gallery 121, Artists & Artisans Gallery & Studio and the John M. Parrott Gallery on the 3rd floor of the library.
The idea for the Belleville Gallery District isn’t new; in 2015 the then newly-named district was celebrated with the city’s first Art Walk.
But when the BAA moved to its new location at 208 Front Street earlier this year, the galleries decided to bring back a monthly Gallery Stroll – a more casual take on the Art Walk, a showcase event, most recently organized in 2018 by Gallery 121 that included the participation of more than 20 community partners.
“We just wanted to offer one evening a month when all of the galleries would be open and the community could come out for the stroll. Simple as that,” says Lisa Morris, co-owner (with Peter Paylor) of Artists & Artisans. “We treat the Gallery Stroll as more of cultural stroll, with posters and brochures and lively discussion about what’s happening locally in music and theatre, along with the visual arts.”
The galleries in the district have a long and storied history in Belleville: the BAA Association has been existence since 1958, the QAC since 1967, the J.M. Parrott Gallery since 1973, Gallery 121 since 1991 and Artists & Artisans since 2010. But each offers a different gallery experience.
“You can visit five different places within a short walk of each other and get an understanding of what each place is and does,” says Jan Coombs of the BAA. “Each is unique, has its own history, its own vibe.”
“The BAA is a first gallery experience for many artists,” she adds, as the gallery offers the opportunity for members to show their art regardless of where they are in their career. Visitors to the gallery immediately notice the variety and variation between art works. What’s more, artists with international representation can be found next to first-timers.
The QAC is both a gallery and an Arts Council: “A visit to our gallery offers people the opportunity to see our latest show, but also connect with the staff behind the Council to learn about the work we’re doing within the community to support our artist members,” says Janet Jarrell, executive director.
“Visitors walk into this space and comment on all the creative energy here, both from the art on the walls and the work being done behind-the-scenes.”
As a co-operative, the shows in Gallery 121 are as varied as the artists themselves. Their vision is to educate the public on all the different forms of art— fibre, jewellery, sculpture, installation—while “walking the edge a little bit” with bold contemporary shows that delight and surprise.
“We have a large enough space that we can present some of those bigger pieces,” says Dona Knudsen, such as life-sized installations of John A. Macdonald and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. She adds the gallery is building a reputation for hosting monthly shows that feature both members’ and guest works that “push the envelope.”
An oft-heard word to describe Artists & Artisans is “funky” — it’s a space filled with bold and beautiful recycled jewellery and clothing crafted by Morris, and wood carvings by Paylor, paired with works by both emerging and established artists. “We want art to feel accessible and attainable,” says Morris.
And the Parrott Gallery, the only public gallery (with city and municipal funding), has a mandate to serve the members of the community. “By offering an arts experience to the community, we also bring community to the artists,” says curator Susan Holland. “To be seen and appreciate encourages artists to produce more.”
Informal events such as the Gallery Stroll help “break down those psychological barriers that people seem to have about the word ‘gallery,’” says Holland.
“We’re inviting you to come look at the art, to learn, to discover something you didn’t know before, to leave here with a smile on your face, and to support the artists who are working their guts out to bring us something beautiful to look at.”
She adds: “[The Gallery Stroll] brings the artistic community together to make an offering to the people. Everybody has busy lives, but when we create something like the Gallery Stroll, we can say, ‘Give us three hours and we’ll knock your socks off.’”
Upcoming dates for the Gallery Stroll:
September 19 – 4:00 – 7:00
October 17 – 4:00 – 7:00
November 21 – 4:00 – 7:00
For more information, visit the event page on Facebook: