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Evans Contemporary: A vision for Peterborough as an international centre for art and culture

After traveling the world for over 20 years as an artist and cultural worker, Peterborough native Paolo Fortin returned in 2010 to buy a home in the famed Avenues district of the city.

Fortin was excited that a promising arts and cultural scene had sprung up in downtown Peterborough and glad to see the emergence of many excellent locally-owned and operated restaurants, venues, and businesses. But he lamented any noticeable change in the visual art scene. Not a single new gallery had opened during the time he had been away.

In September of 2012 he visited Scottish artist and gallery director Jack Davidson, who runs the gallery JiM Contemporani out of his apartment in the heart of Barcelona.

That experience convinced Fortin that the time had come for him to do something about the lack of new galleries in Peterborough himself.

“We talked about new models for galleries, frustrations with entrenched institutions, and ideas around the “DIY” approach.” says Fortin “I had experienced these ideas and gallery models in Brooklyn and Berlin with galleries popping up in apartments, unused storefronts and empty spaces throughout the city.  Upon my return from Barcelona, I opened Evans Contemporary in the hope that it could be an addition to the visual art scene of Peterborough.”

After three years of operating the gallery out of his home on Pearl Avenue this fall he moved the gallery into the downtown core, on Hunter Street directly across the street from Liz Fennel’s Gallery in the Attic (which also opened in the fall of 2012). The gleaming white wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling gallery is located in a third floor walk-up above some of Fortin’s favourite downtown Peterborough haunts; Roland Hosier and Shannon Mak’s St. Veronus Café and Tap Room and Le Petite Bar. He’s also in the same building as famed local artist Joe Stable’s studio, The Acme Art and Sailboat Co., and his downstairs neighbour is “Atelier Ludmilla” artistic producer Laurel Paluck. Here Fortin is right in the midst of the Peterborough arts Mecca and vibrant downtown scene that he loves. He has a vision for seeing a focus on downtown lead to a greater future for Peterborough as a cultural centre.

Even as a resurgence in the Peterborough visual art scene that he’s been a part of begins to emerge Fortin has endured his detractors for not featuring more from local area artists. But Fortin is among the first to shower artists like Dorothy Caldwell, John Climenhage, Jeff Macklin, and William Joel Davenport and his fellow workers in the cultural community with recognition.  He purchases exceptional work from local artists for the Evans collection whenever he gets the chance.

Evans Contemporary is “focused on showing exceptional, contemporary work from international or Canadian artists with an internationally focused exhibition record.” He explains, “It is important for me to see this type of work in Peterborough and I believe it is important for the visual artists in Peterborough to be exposed to these artists and their work.” In taking this approach he hopes that he can help add to a cultural movement in Peterborough that could see the city take its place alongside international destinations for art & culture like Burlington, VT; Asheville, NC; Austin, TX; or even come to be seen as a little New York or Berlin.

“At this moment Peterborough is like the Wild West when it comes to culture” he says, “Anything can happen and is happening.

People are doing things themselves. Restaurants, microbrews, music venues, theatre… all of the people that make these things happen are making Peterborough a better place. It’s an exciting time… an hour with some friends at St. Veronus will place you in Belgium, a Saint-Germain Seventy-Five cocktail at Le Petit Bar will transport you to Paris, and ten minutes in Evans Contemporary will have you feeling like your are in NY.”

Evans Contemporary is located at 129 ½ Hunter St W in Peterborough.

The gallery is open Saturdays from 12 – 6 p.m. Viewings can also be made by appointment.

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