Headwaters Arts celebrates its 20th anniversary

July 21, 2016   ·   0 Comments

In an exciting shift, the juried Headwaters Arts Art Show is open to artists all over Ontario for the first time this year. In all previous years, this prestigious show was only open to member artists of Headwaters Arts. However, in a decision to reach out to artists from all around the Province, the welcome mat has been firmly laid down for all and sundry to join in.

The deadline for submissions is this Friday (tomorrow), July 22.

“Artists are prone to procrastination,” commented the President, Bridget Wilson. “so, even at this late date, artists are welcomed to submit their pieces – we have had some wonderful work coming in so far.”

In all, like any organization, Headwaters Arts has been through a number of growths and changes, all to the good and all under the vision of various influential leaders.

For this time around, the new vision for Headwaters Arts is to combine the arts with the other attractions that bring people to the region.

Jordan Grant, co-owner of the Alton Mill Arts Centre in which Headwaters Arts is located both as an office and running the main art gallery in the centre, told us some of the thinking that has gone into shaping this year’s approach: “This region is incredibly rich in the arts, which contributes considerably to the general economy.”

He offered an example of what has happened in another arts-centric region over recent years, “In Prince Edward County they have successfully combined the arts with the wine and food, [for which the area is famous and] that go to making the region a destination for tourists.

“We could do something like that here.”

With this in mind, Headwaters Arts is looking to combine its efforts in concert with the Dufferin Arts Council and Headwaters Tourism, to spread the word about all the wonders of the Dufferin County area with the other strong elements that make this region attractive.

Mr. Grant, with his brother Jeremy, took on the Alton Mill, the heritage building, in the late 1980’s from their father, who had purchased it without any real plan for it. At one point, the gentlemen were advised to just pull the building down but its potential was clear to them and they determined to hang on to it.

A first restoration, in the late 1990’s, was applied, “a quick and dirty effort,” according to Mr. Jordan to accommodate a work shop for Carl Borgstram, cabinet maker. At the same time, the possibilities of the beautiful building as an arts centre was in the minds of a few people, especially the Grant brothers and Jefferson Mappins, president of Headwaters Arts at the time. So, studio space was offered in the upstairs rooms to a few artists.

However, somewhat later in 2006, Jordan and Jeremy Grant decided to undertake a full restoration of the mill. The cost was to be rather large, so they began by applying for grants from two levels of government and succeeded in this with a provincial Rural Economic Development grant and, from the federal government, a CHPIF grant under the Commercial Heritage Properties Incentive Fund (since de-funded by the Harper government).

“Between these two funds, we raised about a third of the cost, which was about $5 million,” said Mr. Grant, indicating that, from there, the Grant family footed the bill.

The restoration took about three years. Under the guidance of Catherine May Smith, the Mill developed  to its present appearance. “Where we stuck to that which is historical, while keeping the new work exactly right or where we had to change it, it is completely different to distinguish them. Now, there is retail on the ground floor and studios of working artists upstairs (also with their work for sale.)”

The Alton Mill Arts Centre hosts many events and is open to private functions.

In the very early days of the formation of Headwaters Arts, Al Pace, one of the founding members, explained to us the reasoning behind the project. In the mid-1990’s, several small groups of artists were banding together to create a season of art tours to encourage visitors to the area, as a benefit in general and as a means to show the work of the very many local artists in their own home studios.

However, while laudable, the different groups each putting together their own programs and promotions meant a great deal of repetition of  brochures and information.

So, a large part of the idea behind Headwaters Arts was to bring together those groups into one overall festival with one brochure covering all the participating artists, one (beautiful) map illustrating the entire area and one all encompassing distribution of those brochures.

Thus, the original idea continues with the embellishments inevitable to such an organic ideal as an arts organization. Under the leadership of Wayne Baguley for five years, a scholarship fund was established to assist promising student artists in all fields of art. From one field to the next, many art forms have been promoted by these scholarships.

Now, with Headwaters Arts thoroughly settled in the Alton Mill Arts Centre, including its annual Gala opening the Arts Festival, there is renewed excitement about what is to come for the arts scene in Dufferin-Caledon and the surrounding area.

This year, the Gala, which was held late in the schedule last year at the SGI Centre, will take place with all the accustomed fine food, music and company, at the Alton Mill Arts Centre. The exhibition of the juried show will span the Province’s artists from far and wide as only our highly diverse Ontario can do it.

The date for the Gala is Friday evening, September 16, 2016.

“We are very excited about the variety of art involved in the festival,” said Bridget Wilson. “As other years, much of the arts are included. The Art Show is for two and three dimensional art; Theatre Orangeville has a musical show about Judy Garland on during the opening weekend; the play, Dishwasher, is being produced at the Mill; there is an Authors’ Night and Monday Night at the Movies events on, as well as an art exhibition at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives.”

All these specifics and the marvellous studio tours, are still listed under the one umbrella of the Headwaters Arts brochure, out early next week. Be sure to pick one up at the Tourist Information Centre on Buena Vista and many other shops and restaurants. Although the festival does not begin until September 16, there is always plenty to see and do within the arts community, which includes the many fine restaurants in the area, and a good place to learn about it all is on

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.