To The Editor,
Only 18% of Canadians live in rural areas. That’s less than one in five.
How do we make ourselves seen and heard?
I grew up on a Niagara farm. I drove a tractor as a child, and did the dishes while at the sink, standing on a kitchen chair. I often did housework while my parents worked in the orchard.
Later, I studied English literature and taught at a Montréal college. After I substituted for an art history professor, I expanded my studies into the visual arts.
After moving to Vankleek Hill in 2022, I offered to volunteer at the Arbor Gallery. Now I sit on its board.
I never let go of my roots. I taught the work of Alice Munro, a Canadian who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 and who wrote stories set in the small towns and rural communities of southern Ontario.
I always brought my rural experience into the classroom, educating urban students about what it was like to grow up outside a big city.
Most of these students had never spent much time in the countryside, apart from ski trips to the eastern townships, or curated visits to museums or specialty farms. When we hear the word diversity, we don’t often think of the rural-urban divide, but as many people who study Canada know, it is a frequent source of misunderstanding.
So to bridge that divide, it’s important that works from our local artists and performers are seen. It’s as important as political engagement at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
To contribute fully to our culture, then, we need to ensure the artefacts that reflect our way of life are valued, preserved and studied. And to do that, we need to support local cultural producers now: we need to support our artists, performers and creators and give them a space to display, perform or sell their work.
Because of my farming background, I’m a pragmatist. I know that supporting culture in a rural setting is a hard-sell, especially now, when inflation is rising and putting food on families’ tables seems a more compelling option than donating elsewhere.
But cultural work is precisely what eases our lives during difficult times. It reminds us of our underlying connections to others. We can empathize with the suffering we see in a local painting, just as we can take pride in the charming ceramics and elegant glassworks produced by friends. We can delight in the art created by our sons and daughters, or the sons and daughters of our neighbours.
The Arbor Gallery isn’t just an art gallery. We host intimate concerts and bring authors in to discuss their work. We support the artistic aspirations of local students and bring families together for children’s entertainment.
Please consider making a contribution to help us continue our work. Go to the arborgallery.org and click “support.”
Irene Ogrizek, Vankleek Hill