Celebrating Arts and Culture on the Grand River

Brantford’s Arts Block is back … with a vengeance.

Day on the Grand is supported by the Ontario Arts Council, Enterprise Brant, the City of Brantford, King and Benton and Harold and Goetz.

After more than one year of planning and six months of jumping through legal hoops, the Brantford Arts Block is partnering with Brant Theatre Workshops and ZZZBTFD to bring the banks of the Grand River to life.

More than 70 musicians, visual artists and performers will turn the trails, bridges and the Grand River into intimate galleries and stages for a new arts festival called Day on the Grand.

“You might think of it as a comeback,” lead organizer Gerry Lafleur of the Arts Block said. “I think the key people (at Brantford Arts Block) took a little time off; recovered from some exertion. It was a struggle keeping the West Brant space running. Everybody was tired.”

The Brantford Arts Block closed its doors in September 2015 due to soaring debt and lack of government funding. Since then other arts venues such as the Crawford Collective and The Station Gallery have also shut down.

“We want to show some love to artists,” Lafleur said. “Great venues keep closing … lack of funding is a big problem. I joke that dogs in Brantford are better off than artists. They have Dogford Park; we have nothing.”

The noon-to-dusk festival will be held at and around Brant’s Crossing Park behind the OLG Casino and will feature highlights like a twilight performance by cirque acrobats suspended from the old rail bridge behind the skate park and traditional Native dancers, singers and drummers on the riverbank.

Alex Iarocci checks the acoustics at the Sand Bar, one of the venues for Day on the Grand, a Brantford Arts Block festival coming to downtown Brantford on Sept. 9. - Submitted
Alex Iarocci checks the acoustics at the Sand Bar,one of the venues for Day on the Grand,a Brantford Arts Block festival coming to downtown Brantford on Sept. 9.

Singer-songwriters will be set up on a sandbar below the rail bridge and a brass quintet will perform at the skate park. “Edgier” bands will rock the riverbank stages beginning at 5 p.m.

Among the artists taking part are Dave Hind, Aliki Mikulich, Rob Mikalchuk and artistic collaborators Rob Porteous and Garner Beckett who will design two-dimensional creatures to occupy the water off a small gravel island.

Performance artist Holly Timpener makes her return to her hometown of Brantford from Montreal for a collaboration with Montreal artist Enok Ripley, and Montreal artist Petra Glynt will bring her operatic trance-punk to an area dubbed the Underground that will be used as a graffiti-covered arts space under the Lorne Bridge.

Poetry readings and a 10-minute play by Brant Theatre Workshops will also be featured at the Underground.

The musical lineup includes Logan Staats, Tim Turvey, Steve Murphy, Missy Bauman, Lacey Hill, Austin Pigott and the Cellar Dwellers in addition to new bands.

Children can get into the action by creating their own Lego structures. The event also includes displays and activities from Glenhyrst Art Gallery, Woodland Cultural Centre, the Brant Museum and Archives and the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre.

Given the location of the festival, organizers had to conduct an environmental assessment to get permission from federal and provincial regulators because the river is home to two at-risk species — the Eastern Sand Darter, a small fish that is related to perch, and the Wavy-rayed Lamp Mussel whose offspring spread by hitching rides on the back of bass.

The river, however, is an ideal location to bring the city’s arts and culture scene together, Lafleur said.

“It seems central to the city’s identity,” he said. “The town — Brant’s Ford — and there’s the canal connected to that spot…as I understand the economy was shaped to some extent by the canal. There are a number of things that make it an iconic place.”

Day on the Grand will be held Saturday, Sept. 9, beginning at noon. Lafleur is working on a backup plan in the event of rain.

People can park for free at the Market Parkade on Icomm Drive or the Civic Centre on Market Street South.

Day on the Grand is supported by the Ontario Arts Council, Enterprise Brant, the City of Brantford, King and Benton and Harold and Goetz.

Brantford Arts Block is also working on developing future programming.