Bayfield Centre for the Arts to open visual arts hub

·6 min read

BAYFIELD – A visual arts hub is coming to Bayfield. An inclusive, educational, and innovative space where access to creative minds is possible, where people of any age or skill level can explore their creative side.

Bayfield community members began collaborating in the fall of 2019 to explore the concept of developing a visual arts centre.

Bayfield Centre for the Arts (BCA) was born from the first meeting.

This group, according to their website, believed that culture is the lifeblood of a vibrant community. The various organizations and offerings in Huron County needed one roof to bring them together and offer more advanced programming and education.

They started as a small group of 12, getting together to discuss creating a hub for contemporary art in the heart of Bayfield.

The number of people joining the group is a testament to the work being done. Artists and supporters are both rolling up their sleeves, getting to work to see this vision become a reality.

BCA aims to become the premier visual arts organization for rural Southwestern Ontario, their website said. The centre will enhance the many ways visitors experience the Lake Huron shores through the power of art.

Leslee Squirrell, president of the BCA, grew up around art. Her mother was a founding member of the KW Art Gallery. From a young age, she remembers attending art classes and visiting the gallery.

“I started going to the gallery with her when I was a toddler and started art lessons at age four there,” she said.

A collector of art, Squirrell’s travels have taken her to many various art centres in North America, where she gained knowledge and made friends in the art world.

She met and painted with Canadian skater turned artist Toller Cranston. Over the years, they became good friends. She enjoyed hosting him at her home and visiting his home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a connection that sadly ended when Cranston passed away in 2015.

“Being in his studio and hearing his story is one of my most cherished memories,” she said.

Squirrell attended Fanshawe College in London, taking interior design. She is now a specialist who works with some of Ontario’s largest and most successful home builders, her LinkedIn page said.

With an extensive, lifelong background in the arts, Squirrell is well-qualified to embark on such a vast endeavour.

The BCA has the backing of the entire community (not just Bayfield, she said) and several Huron County councillors. The dream envisioned in her living room last fall is closer to becoming a reality.

Squirrell made an impressive presentation to Huron County councillors at the March 2 meeting, several councillors were voicing their favour of the idea.

“We are very, very excited that the Bayfield Centre for the Arts is progressing,” Warden Glen McNeil told Wingham Advance Times. “Huron County wants to congratulate Leslee Squirrel and her team for this great initiative.”

A statement on the BCA website said, “As an economic recovery project post COVID, this art centre is poised to become an important stimulus to the Huron County economy.”

The BCA currently operates from “the much-loved barn at 24 Main Street N, behind The Village Bookshop.”

Shortly after the group began to meet, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, making things more complicated. Still, it has not deterred the enthusiasm or the drive of the newly formed Board of Directors.

The BCA is working on alternative ways to get involved and begin to enjoy some visual arts as soon as this summer.

The first-ever “West Coast Outdoor Film Festival” will feature the movie “Trigger Point,” filmed in Bayfield by a Canadian film and television director and a local boy, Brad Turner.

This event will be held outdoors, with pods for small groups, to follow health and safety protocols.

Create Together Open Studio is another concept that BCA is developing. “Where you can paint, knit or practice your favorite hobby while in the safe, distanced company of other creative people. This event will be offered weekly at the Community Room, Bayfield arena, commencing as soon as possible, the website said.

Master Classes are being formed, the website announcing “four very accomplished Ontario artists have agreed to give a Master Class in Bayfield this summer.”

“Learn how to paint an abstract landscape…use palette knife…or create a soapstone carving.”

The Mobile Art Program is an initiative that will take art on the road, facilitating art experiences at regional mental health facilities and being available for fairs, events, and private parties, the website said.

Plans include creating a new, state-of-the-art gallery with temperature and humidity control, plus a modern security system. These include an environmentally inspired interior design; “The new Bayfield Centre for the Arts will be an inspiring, holistic, and healthy space by incorporating design principles from a variety of green building ratings systems (GBRS), biophilic design strategies and certified eco-materials.”

An outdoor “art park” with public art installations and an onsite café is part of the vision, with art fairs and festivals creating local benefits.

The plans include children’s studios and camps, adult studio classrooms, and digital/new media classes.

The BCA is exploring photography, woodworking, ceramics, glass, fibre arts, and culinary classes.

The BCA is currently holding a raffle to help raise operational funds. A painting donated by Martina Bruggeman from her Lake Huron paintings is the current item up for bids.

The centre is also planning an exhibit titled “Year of the Barn,” and began accepting submissions in Nov. 2020.

The exhibit date is yet to be determined, but BCA is hoping it will be this spring.

“This fundraising, non-juried art exhibition is planned to take place in our “barn” headquarters, 24 Main St N, Bayfield in the spring of 2021. (Date to be finalized and may be subject to change due to COVID restrictions”) the website said.

“All artists are invited to submit artworks on a 12 x 12” substrate that is at least 1 ½” thick in any style. Pieces will be gently screened for commercial viability. An official Donation receipt will be issued to artists for the sale price.”

The organization continues to look for a space that can accommodate this endeavor’s size and scope. A couple of acres of green space in the Bayfield corridor would be ideal, Squirrel said.

The location is significant, near the water where people get an “instant feeling of wellness and creativity.”

They are currently painting and working on upgrades at “The Barn,” and planning workshops and experiences for spring 2021.

You can visit their website at

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times