By Constance Scrafield
After more than three months of being locked down, the Alton Mills Arts Centre reopened its doors to the community yesterday (March 10).
The Mill is operating at 25 per cent capacity limits and has all of the necessary COVID-19 protocols in place to safely operate.
Artists and staff are excited to welcome the community back into the facility, says Anne-Marie Warburton, owner of Gallery Gemma Jewellery and one of the longest term tenants at the Alton Mill.
“We’re elated to be opening. It’s been very hard to be 10 minutes north you in Dufferin County and 10 minutes west you’re in Wellington County, and everybody could be open ahead of us,” said Warburton.
“So we’re just thrilled to be able to make people welcome here again. It’s a lovely, lovely place.”
It can be said that the artists at the Alton Mill Arts Centre are feeling buoyed up by the first actual opening of the year.
“We even have what we call the COVID Committee,” said Jeremy Grant, co-owner with his brother Jordan, of the Mill, “We’ve been meeting on and off since last March. The work we’ve done, trying to maintain some awareness of the Mill and the momentum we’ve picked up over the years… we were so frustrated to see that drop off in the last year or so. Now, with the re-opening generally, we are opening because we want to and we want to invite people back.
“It should be a smooth process,” he commented. “We hope people will come back and that people will [shop] so artists will make money again.
“On behalf of my brother and me, this has been a massive struggle, with massive fear and worry. Yet, there seems to be a light in the distance, getting bigger all the time. We hope people will get out and visit their community. That’ll help them recognize the beautiful place we live in and that we can’t rely on online shopping and big box stores for that special feeling.”
From Warburton, “We’re still standing,” was the reassurance. “I’ve been watching the local Canadian fashion designers bringing their clothing in and setting up fresh displays [in the Rare Threads gallery]. The artists have been coming into their studios and painting; what else can you do during all this lock down time? So, they’ll have new work. Kim Kool with her encaustic studio. She’s got all new supplies, ready for the time when she can run workshops again. But the café won’t be open while we’re in the grey zone.”
Warburton has similarly been to her shop and workshop on a regular basis, where she told us, “I’ve been making jewellery all through the lock down.”
Headwaters Arts will have new works to show and Noodle Gallery has had a total re-fresh. Mark Grice has fabulous new horse paintings.
Everybody’s so excited to be able to allow visitors entrance into the Mill. Now, 63 visitors at a time can be in the Mill. All the cleaning rituals are well in place and being observed. Every measure is being taken to welcome visitors and keep them safe.
In talking about the outside area at the Alton Mill having been kept open all through the winter and the lockdown, Warburton said, “It was the neighbourly thing to welcome people. As long as they didn’t leave things behind, be respectful, which they were – totally fantastic.”
Up until recently, the pond has been kept clear for skating, although it is no longer safe to do so. It is the whole idea of a place close to home you can go to, as something good for the soul, good for the community.
Alex Leikermoser has created a scavenger hunt outside, a happy outdoor interactive event. She is the “Yogagurl” with a studio of art and wellness at the Mill and an exhibit in the Pond Gallery for the opening.
“What I’m doing here is a very organic practice,” she told the Citizen. “I started offering my yoga classes here and a space came available. With things changed with closures, I started to go back to my inner artist, to focus on creativity, combining with art and music; sharing a bit of my inner thoughts and journey that it might spark creativity in other women.”
She explained, “Sharing my own experience with them that making art with your hands really brings you into the moment. I obviously am very grateful that I went on my own creative journey. My intention is to give back to the community.”
With that in mind, Ms. Leikermoser invited an 11-year-old artist from Erin, Sarah Casey, to work with her on the outdoor portion. Ms. Leikermoser wanted it to be acceptable to youth and the kids. Her art collection in the Pond Gallery will speak to adults and kids, she is sure, but an art and word hunt is aimed at the younger audience.
There are six small pieces of work and and Sarah painted those, under Ms. Leikermoser’s guidance.
“There’s a map,” she said. “Pick up a sheet at the gallery and take those [uplifting] words that are the hunt, Then, make a sentence and pass those on to others.”
For those still reluctant to go into the Mill, Alex Leikermoser’s exhibit can be seen from outside. Although the Pond Gallery is upstairs in the Mill, it has a full glass wall which is easily accessible outside and where her work can be seen.
In the course of her early career as an eco-interior designer, she suffered a break down that changed her life style early on. She discovered meditation and yoga, changed to weaving in the health and wellness base with them. She hosts online mentorship for women to find their ultimate health, through yoga and art, “giving women the tools to prevent burn out.”
She offered, “Finding your magical morning sets you up for your whole day. This is about inspiring people to find that playfulness and those rituals that bring them back to their centre. I offer a whole range of tools – music, journaling, art, yoga.”
Ms. Leikermoser is certified as a yoga instructor and has a certificate in Wellness.
She said, “I believe everyone can be creative. What’s your version of your health? More than ever [through Covid], it became clear to me that I need to share; it’s time to have the conversation: what do people feel? How can I spark that creativity?”
The Alton Mill Arts Centre opened yesterday (March 10) and operates from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Wednesday to Sunday.
Warburton says the site is a relaxing, uplifting, and beautiful place to visit, especially for residents who have never visited it before.
“If you feel like an outing in the country, where you can view original Canadian art, this is a great place. We really consider it a national treasure,” Warburton enthused.
For more details, go to www.altonmill.ca