Revitalizing the barracks – creative placemaking, building community
By Heather Christiansen
Prince Edward County
Tim Jones, CEO of Base31, was raised in a family of artists and originally embarked on a career in live theatre. With twenty-two years at Artscape in Toronto and a decade of experience with the Canada Council for the Arts, he knows that Base31 is a canvas for storytelling and community development.
“I truly came to understand the power of art to heal, to create a sense of pride and identity to advance social change to open minds and hearts.”
Of his time at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Jones says, “It gave me a much more acute sense of what art is and its role in advancing culture.”
Jones uses the phrase ‘Creative Placemaking’ engaging arts and culture to catalyze the transformation of places.
Respectful of the past, while engaging creative minds and cultural resources to co-create a new future, and that is what Base31 is all about.
Jones and his partner, Assaf Weisz, and two Ontario-based companies purchased 700 acres in Prince Edward County in December 2021. Historically, a World War II Royal Canadian Air Force base, it is emerging as a cultural destination. There are 75 tenants on 70 acres, and the team, (a local staff of 20) creating more space for creatives, innovators, musicians and artists.
The first season kicked off loud – Sarah Harmer, David Wilcox, Sloan, Bedouin Soundclash, the Big Lake Arts Chamber Orchestra, We’re Funny That Way – Queer Comedy and Music Festival, and David R. Maracle and Friends, Digging Roots: a benefit for Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Mohawk Language and Culture Centre.
“We are looking to engage the public, audiences of all kinds, young and old,” explains Jones. “It is partly going to be about the experiences we create here, but it’s partly about how we record those stories, not just of the military history, but there is the loyalist history and the ten thousand years of Indigenous ownership and stewardship.”
In the spring, Base31 announced partnerships with the Municipality of Prince Edward County, All Welcome Here, PEC Arts Council, History Lives Here, Department of Illumination, The County Foundation, Chamber of Commerce and Jacqui Burley, the original property manager whom Jones credits with saving the place.
Jones says, “arts can breathe life into a place.” Evidence of this can be seen all over Base31, with public art and placemaking programs commissioning artists to reimagine the site and revitalize the barracks. Installations of archival photographs from local residents, sculpture, Alchemy Artists Residency pairing artists with local wineries and farms, Maison Depoivre, Melt Art Galleries and ten shipping container mural paintings projects are in the works.
“We have been lucky that there is such an amazing openness in the County to this way of working, to wanting to collaborate, to make something new,” says Jones. “I know that there’s not going to be one author of a site like this; it’s going to be many different people whose ideas come together, that adds up to a bigger story here…you need a process that is open and welcoming to other people and ideas.” Jones states, “We need to think of [artists] as value creators and put them at the centre of city building.”
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