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By Constance Scrafield
When the only art gallery we have in this broad area of artists is designated a shopping mall, there has been a hitch in the thinking.
“It's because we're in Peel,” explained Jeremy Grant, co-owner of the Alton Mill Arts Centre, with his brother Jordan, about why the Mill has been declared a mall, rather than an art gallery.
We were standing, with artist CJ Shelton, and Jeremy Grant, at a social distance, in the sun, at the Mill, about to take a tour of the art displays, free to see on the grounds.
Ms. Shelton remarked, “I live in Orangeville and it's a seven-minute drive to here – things are open there but not here. We're [in Alton] actually lumped in with Brampton instead of Caledon: we're part of Caledon but just inside Peel Region. It's very different being classified as a mall – as artists – that's hard to take.”
Her face made a grimace as she considered the contrast between the beautiful and antique Alton Mill and a standard shopping mall.
“It's very frustrating, of course,” agreed Mr. Grant.”There is a list of the tenants and their studios on our website. There is information about what they're each doing.”
He went to explain how they are coping with an online life: “Each artist has their own deal. Some can have clients come in person, by appointment. We ask that everyone wears a mask.”
Ms. Shelton added, “Some are holding online classes. I'm running a couple of my regular classes. So far, that's going seamlessly. At the moment, I'm designing online classes for the future. One of our newest tenants, Michele Johnston is doing Facebook live classes, helping people cope, with expressive art therapy.”
Ms. Shelton is even planning a “retreat,” during which they will explore: “how do you pick what's essential?” She told us, “I talk about things from a higher perspective.”
As, bit by bit, the province loosens the restrictions, so too, for the Alton Mill, with the tentative opening for meetings or gatherings, with numbers limited to ten people or fewer is now allowed.
Mr. Grant's excitement about this was somewhat tentative as well: “For the ceremonies of weddings and funerals, they're allowing as many as 50 people outside and one third of the space inside, which in our case, is 40 people.
“I think it would be fair to say that any interested groups should contact us for confirmation of capacity, as the rules may change at any time. Even at short notice.”
So, if you cancelled or postponed your wedding, you can now have your wedding, with a small crowd at the Alton Mill Arts Centre.
We went for a walk to see the splendid works of art that are on display around the grounds.
A broad metal rectangle is the background for Floyd Elzinga's Blue Moon: a disk in the sky of this tableau beams coldly at a windswept tree, heavy metal leaves straining in the direction of the moon. The impressive piece is attached to the exterior of the Mill's wall, next to the entrance.
The Floating Wall is a dry stone wall (meaning no substance binding the stones into place – it stands on its own by the skill of the stone mason). Each stone has been chiselled to fit in with the others – quite remarkable. At the fifth level within the wall are two larger stones, well apart, which protrude out of the wall on either side – for fun- for sitting or standing on – to take photographs – an interactive time with a stone wall...
Taking a walk around behind the Mill to wander by the pond, there was a stone bench, wide enough for the three of us to sit at a suitable distance from each other. A moment of reflection, of struggling with the financial pitfalls that could have come – there were revelations.
“Jeremy and Jordan worked with us about the rent,” Ms. Shelton said. “It made all the difference as to how we planned our near future.”
Mr. Grant noted the help of the federal government plans also made a difference. When that came on, the tenants were responsible for 25% of their rent, which, even when that was still a stretch, meant staying at the Mill.
“Working together with the artists, we've become a real community, we have managed to stay together as a community of artists and for me to know people want to stand here, the resident artists feel more deeply than I do, that this is a special place.”
For the one resident artist, who was taking this walk with us, Ms. Shelton said, “What it brought home to me was what it meant to stay – I'm so appreciative of the help from Jordan and Jeremy – it was a combination to show how special this place is.”
The pond is under the keeping of the Alton Millpond Association and, following the assistance of a Trillium Grant, complicated and extensive designs, now nearly complete, are going into the renovation and conservation of the pond.
We went on to climb the stair to the walk way over the dam and descended into a courtyard, part of the exterior of the lower level of the building. An amazing metal tree, its branches held by a beam and tips facing up, is a fountain – water rises up the trunk and flows down again from the branches to make a cascade. Original, interesting, great.
Back to the walkway and down another flight to the banks of Shaw's Creek, a Credit River tributary coming down from the headwaters of one of the precious five main rivers that run eventually into Lake Ontario.
Nearby, the bronze figure of a woman, heavily pregnant and wearing barely enough to cover her by garments that look as though they are made of leaves. Her arms are raised and her face is looking at the sky, at the sun filtering its way through the trees, back to her, answering her and rejoicing in the new life she carries within her.
A long single stone forms the seat of another bench, where on the left is a stone, placed as an arm rest. Mr. Grant pointed to a shallow square chiselled in the stone.
“The artist did that on purpose to a put a beer,” said Mr. Grant with a laugh – “he told me he could picture someone sitting there, drinking a beer.”
We returned to the front of the Mill and Mr. Grant led us up a steepish path through the woods to see “The Wave,” a fabulous dry stone instalment, a shape, a flow of chiselled stone, carefully done to match, set meticulously into a smooth swoop, the larger stones along the top of the wave, the intensely regular, smaller stones forming the bulk and balance of it. The whole structure is sitting on the floor of the woods, a surprise on a walk.
“We've always wanted the Mill to be part of the community and we hope people walk the paths and enjoy it,” said Jeremy Grant. “There's no entrance fee. We think it's wonderful to be here.
“If you're thinking of having a wedding, last minute, small – get in touch with me.” was his offer.
For lots of details, check at www.altonmill.ca.
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