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The evolution and impact of the White Water Gallery in North Bay

'We all need some kind of outlet, whether you are participating in the arts or just a patron or viewer of the arts'

Rooted is all about the people, places, and events, that make us proud to call our community home.      


Founded in 1974 and incorporated three years later, the White Water Gallery was born out of necessity. It aimed to provide a space for local artists who were seeking professional development opportunities but found themselves without a venue to showcase their work. 
Alex Maeve Campbell, the artistic director of the gallery, joined Lisa Boivin on an episode of "To North Bay with Love" to delve into the gallery's pivotal role in the city's cultural landscape and the origin of the beloved Downtown Gallery Hop. 

Campbell says the ethos of fostering artistic innovation and supporting local talent has remained at the core of the gallery’s mission, shaping its activities and outreach over the decades. 

Campbell came into her role in August 2022 and faced immediate challenges with the gallery’s physical space.

"We are now located at 159 Main St. E in North Bay and have been in that location since last year. When I first got this job, the gallery didn’t have a space. A new owner took over the building and wanted to expand into the area where the gallery was located. Shortly after that, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and so the folks running the gallery at the time decided to adapt and do things virtually for a while and look for alternative ways to showcase different exhibits." 

One of those was a show in which the gallery placed different exhibits in the storefront windows of shops downtown. “That really showed that business owners downtown care about the arts sector and want to see an arts culture thriving here. There were remote viewing opportunities as well, but it was certainly a challenge when I first got this job.”   

Despite these challenges, the gallery found its new home and had its first show in the new space in August 2023. The White Water Gallery continues to be driven by its foundational mission to support artistic practices prioritizing risk and innovation, which reflects well with the current exhibition.  

"To Bend & To Shape," is running until May 18. "The photographs and videos in 'To Bend & To Shape' make connections between the representation of women’s bodies in histories of the witch hunts, folk tales, and in contemporary cultural myths of femininity. The project was inspired by historian Silvia Federici’s framing of the witch hunts as a genocide against women," per the show's description.  

This is a multimedia exhibition by visual artist Clare Samuel, originally from Northern Ireland and now living in Toronto. Her work focuses on connection and distances between the self and other, as well as notions of social division, borders, and belonging. Spanning mediums such as photography, video, text and installation, her projects are often a dialogue with the idea of portraiture. Samuel has exhibited internationally, most recently at OBORO, Belfast Exposed, and VU Photo, with upcoming solo exhibitions at Public Space One (Iowa City) and PAVED Arts (Saskatoon). She is the co-founder and co-director of Feminist Photography Network, a nexus for research on the relationship between feminism and lens-based media.   

Campbell is excited about this exhibit and is passionate about the essential role art plays in society, especially when budget cuts often threaten its funding.

"It is very easy to look at the arts and say, ‘that’s the first thing that goes,’ which is not right, says Campbell. "We all need some kind of outlet, whether you are participating in the arts or just a patron or viewer of the arts. I talk to people who say ‘I’m not artistic at all’ but everybody has a side to them that is considered artistic, you just need to find it and see it through a different lens. People hear the word art, and automatically think of high realism painting. They don’t put it together that they have some kind of artistic side or creative side. And really, it's all subjective.” 

Campbell embodies that first-hand as her father, well-known local artist Keith Campbell had made a name for himself as a visual artist.  

“Unlike my father, I didn’t start out in visual arts. I did everything else, but that's because to me that was ‘dad's thing,’ and I always wanted to be an individual. I did dance, music and writing, I did everything but that,” she says.  

“I think it runs in the family. I never met my grandfather, my dad's dad, as he unfortunately passed away when he was only 46 years old of a heart attack, but from what I’ve been told he was very artistic. He painted a mural in their house a long time ago, and he was very good at drawing. So, I think there might be something in our family genes that led me to being artistic.”  

Among Campbell’s significant contributions to North Bay’s cultural scene is the creation of the Downtown Gallery Hop. Conceived in 2009 while she was at the WKP Kennedy Gallery, the event was designed to synchronize with Art on Main, creating a cohesive community event where attendees could "hop" from one venue to another. "We were running a gallery the same night as Art on Main, and it just occurred to me that we should have everyone open downtown during the same night,” she says.  

“That first one in 2009 happened on a really awful night weather-wise. It was in March and it was one of those really bad nights we get here in North Bay during that time. But people came out, walked around, passed each other on the streets asking ‘what did you just see? Where are you headed? What’s the next thing I can do?’ and it’s been going off and on ever since," Campbell reminisced. 

Through initiatives like the Downtown Gallery Hop and innovative exhibitions, the White Water Gallery remains a cornerstone of North Bay’s artistic community, continually fostering an environment where arts and culture not only exist but thrive. 

If you have an idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]  

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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