Bonavista Biennale

The Bonavista Biennale is heading into its second summer exhibition in 2019, bringing 20 Canadian, international, and Indigenous artists and art-lovers to the Bonavista Peninsula from August 17 to September 15


The Biennale made its debut in 2017 with great success, winning the 2017 “Hospitality Newfoundland’s Cultural Tourism Award” that year.

2019 marks the second year for the biennial (occurring once every two years) event. Exhibition sites in Duntara, King’s Cove, Knight’s Cove, Bonavista, Elliston, Port Union, Catalina, Champney’s West, Port Rexton, and Trinity will feature works by 20 artists.

Sights & sounds

The sites are located on a 100-kilometre loop on the Bonavista Peninsula, with the Biennale organizers suggesting patrons set aside at least two days to take in all the sights and sounds that the exhibition offers.

The 2017 exhibition featured over 150 works created by 26 artists, with over 20 communities and organizations hopping on board as site and event hosts.

“It’s developed a real community connection and a regional connection for all communities on the peninsula since its inception two years ago,” Bonavista Mayor John Norman said.

“I think it flows in line with the community development and regional development that’s been going on here for years, really tying the place and the culture in a more craft/artful way to people,” he shared.

“Here in Bonavista, we did art walks, pop-up installations in various buildings before the Biennale,” Norman said, noting that he was impressed from the get-go – four or five years ago he recalled – in the local turnout and interest in the arts.

“It’s a way for people to showcase their community,” he said, noting that communities like Bonavista and the Trinity-Bight area are some of the most well-known communities in the Peninsula, and they may not see the same kind of noticeable jump in visitation.

In My Skin, by Omar Badrin from the 2017 Bonavista Biennale.

‘The greatest benefit’

“I think the most noticeable effects, though small in number, will be in the smaller, very rural, far less promoted communities. I think that’s where the greatest benefit is,” Norman mused.

“When it comes to the visitor impact, we didn’t generally see a lot of visitors going to these places before the Biennale … Those small communities and the citizens of those communities are often most excited because it does bring new ideas, new blood, and new economic potential to their towns. They look at places like Bonavista, Trinity and Elliston over the last number of years, seeing what they’ve been doing, and economically, it’s been very successful for some of these communities to get into art, culture, heritage, and so on,” Norman said.

The economic impact for the 2017 Biennale is noteworthy, generating $500,000 in new spending on the Peninsula through 16 seasonal part-time jobs, purchasing goods and services, and Biennale visitor spending.

“I think the Biennale is …  connecting people and places, and marketing it to the world.”

On the international front, artists Bob Blumer, Sean Patrick O’Brien, and Anna Hepler hail from the USA, with Cuban-born artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons also coming in from the US. Wanda Koop and Barb Hunt represent Manitoba, with Meghan Price, Camille Turner, Ian Carr-Harris and Yvonne Lammerich travelling from neighbouring Ontario

A little closer to home, D’Arcy Wilson, Paulette Phillips, and Thaddeus Holownia are making the short journey over from their homes in Atlantic/Eastern Canada.

Hailing from the province, the Biennale boasts talent from Kym Greeley, Jason Holley, Jerry Ropson, Robert Hengeveld, plus Indigenous artists Jordan Bennett, Meagan Musseau (Ktaqamkuk – NL), and Mark Igloliorte (Nunatsiavut, NL).

“The artists I’ve spoken to have really enjoyed it. I’ve spoken to a few artists participating this year, and they’re very excited,” Norman said.

Developing a theme 

The Green Chair by Will Gill from the 2017 Bonavista Biennale.

Matthew Hills, Director of the Grenfell Art Gallery for the past two years, is one of the Biennale’s 2019 curators.

His work with large scale public art events, including Nuit Blanche Edmonton, led to Hills being approached by Catherine Beaudette, Artistic Director of the Biennale and 2Rooms Contemporary Art Projects in Duntara, to be a part of the curatorial team, which includes Beaudette and David Diviney from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

“As a curator for the Bonavista Biennale, we began by developing a theme that resonated with the peninsula and this particular historic moment of Bonavista and Newfoundland generally.

This year’s theme is “floe” – “Part of that process is research on the specificities of place and the particular history of the area,” Hills explained. 

“Floe,” another word for a sheet of floating ice, draws on the island’s history as a route connecting North American and Europe, and the history of Indigenous culture in NL – or Ktaqmkuk in Mi’kmaq  – and the effect of colonialism on the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Innu and Inuit peoples.

With a theme established, Hills, Beaudette and Diviney create a “long-list of provincial, national, and international practicing artists whose work and areas of interest have some overlap with the theme for the next biennial.”

“Curators then start to look at sites, initiate conversations with artists, narrowing down the long list, working in concert with the curatorial team, the project managers on the ground, and the artists to identify a site and develop exciting projects,” Hills explained.

“As we get closer to the event, the specifics of working at a particular site and the artist vision start to come into greater focus. We work as a team to realize that vision.”

Hills shared a bit of information about how artists are selected for the event.

“Every project and artist is different, that’s what keeps our jobs so exciting,” he began. “Part of the criteria that drives curatorial discussion and ultimately decisions, is identifying artists who have the potential to or history of working on the scale of Bonavista, who are making work that is at the forefront of contemporary art and that resonates with the Bonavista Peninsula and the particular theme,” Hills said.

‘Not to be missed event’

Both Hills and Norman expressed their unabashed excitement for the 2019 event, and they hope that people will share in that excitement.

“This is a not to be missed event, it only comes around once every two years and it will be the talk of the province this summer, so you don’t want to miss it,” Hills said.

“The Bonavista Peninsula has been now, for a number of years, the rural destination on the island, and I think this just adds a whole other level,” Norman shared, noting the appeal of adding a visual arts aspect to the community’s blossoming arts sector.

“We’ve really become the whole package, from geology to visual arts, to built heritage, natural landscape study, theatre – the list goes on and on, and we offer it not just on a regional level, but on a provincial level, the offerings we have on the Peninsula are at a national and often international calibre,” Norman explained.

“I think Newfoundlanders are really coming to realizing more and more, what they have here in their own province,” he shared. “And it’s only a three and a half hour drive from the city.”

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