Erring on the Mount
Erring on the Mount was an extraordinary undertaking and one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. The practice of artists taking over unused buildings and turning them into creative sites for art and performance has been around forever but it works best if a city or town has a lot of abandoned or vacant buildings to occupy. For better or worse, Peterborough does not have much to choose from in the way of big-old-abandoned-factories.
But how about a big-old-abandoned-convent? It was just our luck that the real estate company that had purchased the former Sisters of St. Joseph convent – called Mount St. Joseph – decided to give up on their development plans and sell it off. It was purchased by a local non-profit whose goal was to develop it into a hub for affordable housing, food security initiatives and other community-based enterprises. Our question to them was: before you start renovating the place, can we open it up to artists to create new works of art and performance designed especially for the rooms, hallways, basements, attic, roof, stairwells and grounds of the sprawling complex of buildings that had been erected intermittently between 1895 and 1969? The answer from the board of the new Mount Community Centre was an enthusiastic YES. We also received support from the former residents, the Sisters who had moved out seven years before and were now living right next door in a very modern building. Their support really was an unexpected boost.
Seven years of disuse had not been kind to the complex of buildings that were interconnected by a confusing labyrinth of staircases and hallways. Especially bad was the winter of 2013-14 which resulted in water damage to the parquet floors in the chapel and corridors, and a severe case of mold in the basement, making the building unusable without some quick intervention if it was to be ready for our 3-day festival in late May of 2014. Luckily the Mount Community Centre was onside and had recruited enthusiastic volunteers, who together with our crew got the place in shape for artists to install their works, and for the public to wander all over the place looking for them. That was the real key to the appeal of the project and one reason it was called Erring: the public was given a list of artists and rooms and start times for events but it was not all that clear how you got from one place to another.
The result was visitors (there were over 3,000 in three days) coming across surprising installations and performances, by chance or design, as they made their way around the building. That’s how we used the word erring: meaning to wander or get lost. It was also how the word was used in 1994 when a group of Peterborough mostly theatre artists created the first Erring, on the 2nd and 3rd floors above the Only Café in downtown Peterborough. Their story – and much more – is told in the 24-page booklet that accompanied the project. Of special interest to me is the essay by the person without whom Erring on the Mount would not have succeeded as well as it did: Liz Fennell. Her ability to curate and corral dozens of artists across numerous genres was the key to our success. Hats off to her and the more than 60 artists who contributed to one of the most unique art happenings in Peterborough history.
- Bill Kimball
Artists featured in the above video:
Sarah McNeilly – Francie & The Golden Key
Brad Brackenridge – Murmuratio
Douglas Back & Sara Bradley – Uplift
The Zippa Dee Doo Dah Soul Chorus – The Singing Sinners of Mercy
Ryan Kerr – Periphery
Cameron Kuntz – Saints In Underwear And Other Stories
Robert Edmondson – Exploring the Boundary Between Art & Corn
Janel Jarvis – Cellydancing in the Gardens of the Mount
David Bateman & Em Glasspool – Cock on a Hot Convent Roof
Jan-Paul Campeau with Victoria Wallace & Roz Hermant – Rupto Silentio
New Stages Theatre – Into Temptation
Kim Blackwell – Les Soeurs (The Sisters)
Laurel Paluck – Dream Machine: Sleep Now
Max Price & Hilary Wear – The 7 Daily Sins
Christy Stoeten – Until Tender-Crisp
Janel Jarvis – The Soundtrack That Wasn’t There
Jenn Cole – Good Dirt
Gillian Turnham & Hartley Stephenson – The Fall
Kate Story with David Bird – A place you’d go to find something, something you’d left there
Andrew Mark & Sally Morgan – Lostsolastalgia
Hermione Rivison – All It Takes is Faith
Opal Jennifer Elchuk with Tessa Nasca and Thomas Vaccaro – Creatures of Flight
Thomas Olszewski with Liz Osawamick – Feeding the Sisters
Susan Newman with the Convivio Chorus – A Sea Change Suite