Archives and Artspace

Dawn Martin

I recently searched on Google “what is art?” I have always been puzzled by the question. Who gets to declare what is and isn’t art; does art have to have meaning or purpose; does it have to have beauty? For me art is very personal—the way art moves me to feel, to think, to ponder, the way it pulls me into an experience. Art says “witness me, I have something to say.”


A quote by Cherokee writer Thomas King always comes to mind when I think of art and life: “don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” Art is everywhere, forever speaking to us. People give art energy to live another day when we view it, speak it into existence, and call it back from the depths of our memories.


Working with Artspace the last couple of weeks has made me appreciate the rich story it has, as one of the first artist-run centers. Creating space for the needs of contemporary Canadian artists. Founded in 1974 by a group of local artists who wanted to take back art’s agency, to challenge and bring new, edgy, alternative narratives that confront and reflect changes in time and culture.


As a student pursuing to become an Indigenous studies and history teacher, I have always had an endearing ache for the personal narratives, the ones that usually don’t make it into text books or media headlines: the accounts families and communities share in small, safe, sacred spaces. Stories that fill rooms with laughter, rawness, and emotion. For me, art is history and history is art, as Hippocrates stated many centuries ago ‘Ars longa, vita brevis’ – life is short, art is long. (


Sifting through the archives and holding history in my hands, I came across postcards, poems, thankyous, photographs, and prints filled with character, personality, and age. I came across a quote in the January 1976 issue of Parachute, an artist-run Peterborough Magazine, that stated “you cannot know the feeling of a place unless you are in it.” This was written by I. Scott Disher under the section of “Town Life” of the magazine. When I read this in the archives of Artspace I sat and wondered about all of the meaning captured in a simple sentence.


“You cannot know the feeling of a place unless you are in it.” In the moments and time life is acting out its play- only in the witnessing can you appreciate it. You cannot know the feeling of living through parts of history you are disconnected from, but you can try to understand and relate to it. Art is not passive in the work it does to communicate emotion and story and I am realizing this more and more as I interact with art.


There is no set way to digest a creation like art. All people view, interpret and feel differently in each interaction. The image attached of our “comments” book in the early years has very different views about art from person to person. There is a rich history at Artspace and I would encourage people to take the time to travel in this discovery of the past. All I know is, art is for the people and they have many opinions.

Artspace Visitor log 1974            Artspace Visitor log 1974