Voices from the Bonavista Biennale: Marieke Gow
Curated by Daniela Veneri
“It is essential that each stakeholder is given the opportunity to identify what their desired results from a project are, but they also have to be committed to achieving the results that other participating stakeholders are looking for. I have been part of a number of projects where my business or community might not directly benefit equally to the other stakeholders involved, but as a result, those same people and groups show up and contribute to the projects that do.” - Marieke Gow
What do you like most about your work and the place where you live?
The tourism industry on the Bonavista Peninsula is predominantly seasonal which allows me the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the winter. Exploring other destinations has confirmed for me what a special and unique place our region of Newfoundland is. I see everyday when interacting with guests that it is truly a transformational experience for them. I love being given the opportunity to help curate their experience and help them discover people, places and experiences they may have otherwise missed.
What specific challenges and opportunities does the local context offer?
We live in a remote corner of the world with a relatively small population. This makes it difficult to improve certain government services such as transportation and access to medical care. The cost of living can be high with a limited number of well paid year round jobs available. This certainly poses a number of challenges, but it also means that those who have chosen to stay and those who have chosen to move here, are motivated by a love of place. The result is a dedicated population of hard working and creative individuals who are willing to work together to ensure our region thrives. While we once heavily relied on the fishery, we now have shifted our focus to tourism. The rich history, culture and natural beauty of this place gives us plenty to work with and a competitive advantage. With our focus being so heavy on preserving these three key elements of our destination, incorporating art allows us to create an innovative and exciting experience for visitors and locals without compromising the long term sustainability of our natural and cultural resources.
What is your involvement in the Bonavista Biennale?
During the last Biennale we worked with the organizers to host a performance at our restaurant the Twine Loft. This was part of an event the Biennale called the Trinity Trio that offered 3 events in one day. A bird sounds workshop in the Holy Trinity Catholic Church by Sara Angelucci, An intro by Elizabeth McIntosh at the Lester Garland Building (a Trinity municipal historic site) to her painting and artist residence at Fogo Island and a musical performance by celebrated Newfoundland Folk singer Pamela Morgan on our waterside deck. How we will participate this year is still to be determined, but that is the great thing about the Biennale. Individuals, communities, businesses and not-for-profits can all participate in ways that suit both the Biennale and themselves. Some can make their spaces accessible for a full month and others can do so for a few hours or days.
What kind of impact do you see emerging from the Bonavista Biennale?
The Biennale is introducing the Bonavista Peninsula as well as Newfoundland and Labrador to an audience that might not have previously considered rural Newfoundland as a choice travel destination. It would not surprise me if some people who discover the region through the Biennale decide to invest more time in the area or even decide to move here.
The exhibits do not only drive people to visit a variety of businesses, museums and natural attractions, it also incorporates abandoned or underutilized spaces helping others see the potential in their development.
Finally the awe inspiring creativity of the Biennale reinvigorates and redefines our perception of what this place is and what it could be.
What is most important for you when involving different stakeholders in the realisation of a common project?
Creating a diverse pool of invested stakeholders has been the key to much of our peninsula’s success. Some of our region’s most notable projects like the Hike Discovery Trail Network, the Discovery Aspiring Geopark and the Bonavista Biennale have thrived because of combined input and efforts by our local governments, not-for profits, private businesses and passionate community members. It is essential that each stakeholder is given the opportunity to identify what their desired results from a project are, but they also have to be committed to achieving the results that other participating stakeholders are looking for. I have been part of a number of projects where my business or community might not directly benefit equally to the other stakeholders involved, but as a result, those same people and groups show up and contribute to the projects that do.
How can arts and culture contribute to the life of a local community?
For any community art and culture is key to creating opportunities for people to gather in a positive way, share ideas and enlighten one another. This is important for a variety of reasons. Advancements in technology has made life much easier than it used to be, certainly for living in rural communities, but it also has its downsides. It results in passive communication that often lacks depth. Technology has learned to present us with what it thinks we want to see, but this limits our access to other points of view and concepts. It has also eradicated the need to leave the house to complete daily tasks that also allowed us to socialize. Creating opportunities for people to gather, especially around something that generates conversation, ideas and debate leads to stronger communities as different demographics get to understand one another better. There are also great
economic benefits. The Bonavista Peninsula has created an atmosphere where art and culture are celebrated and, as a result, artisans and entrepreneurs are choosing to make it their year-round home as a base for creating products such as soaps, salt, jewelry, textiles, ice cream, pottery and beer to name a few. These products are made partially and sometimes completely from locally sourced materials. Not only are they creating year-round employment for themselves and others, they are essential players in our tourism industry, lending themselves to the visitor experience and enhancing the appeal of our destination. Jobs are being created, buildings are being repurposed and our younger generation is learning that self-sustainability is not about lacking something or making do with what we have, but instead, recognizing what makes our resources special and worth protecting.
If you were able to change one or two things in the area of responsibility of arts, cultural and local institutions, what things do you think would create the most value and benefit for all?
Without a doubt it would be to see more investment from our government, both provincially and federally in art and culture as an integrated component of our health and social services programs. While some may argue that money should not be spent on the arts when there is not enough for health and social services in the first place, making art and culture a part of their strategy would likely reduce overall financial pressure on the government in the long run. There is mounting scientific proof showing that art is good for one’s physical health. Some medical professionals are beginning to encourage lifestyle changes incorporating art, music, dance and exercise before considering medicating certain symptoms. Loneliness can also take a physical and mental toll on people. Many elderly people who may not have family to care for them are losing their few remaining opportunities to socialize when they are forced to go through self-check out lines or adapt to a world where people prefer to communicate via text. Community focused art and cultural programs give those that require company and socializing an opportunity to do so. These programs can also facilitate a younger generation to form relationships with older community members who may be fairly able bodied but still require help with certain tasks like snow shoveling, grocery shopping or occasional transport. With a large population of baby boomers nearing an age where they can no longer be completely independent, such programming could save a considerable amount of money on social services provided by the government.
What forms of artistic proposals and cultural programs currently catch your attention and why?
I think the newly opened Union House Arts in Port Union, one of the Biennale’s participating spaces, embodies so much of what we are discussing. Union House Arts (UHA) is a new community artspace operated through the Sir William F. Coaker Heritage Foundation. UHA is committed to supporting work being produced by artists and craftspeople in Newfoundland and Labrador through place-specific dialogues and collaborative programming in Port Union. It bring professional artists to our area to both create and exhibit work accessible to the community. I particularly like their concept of Makers Night that encourages community members to come together and work on their own project of choice while socializing with others and interacting with artists in residence.
Can you think of three or five keywords that express your impressions and feelings about the topics we just talked about?
Pride of place, innovation, connection, sustainability.
Marieke Gow was born in St. John’s Newfoundland in 1985. Her parents had owned property in Trinity since the 1970s, but it was in the early 1990s when her mother bought and renovated an 1840s salt-box house and converted it into a “living museum” B&B experience, that Trinity became a more prominent place in Marieke’s life. Her family’s business thrived and eventually expanded from a B&B to an Inn in 1997. Tineke named the business Artisan Inn to reflect the importance of artisans in the area and the experiences she offered to attract both residential and off island visitors. This included hosting artists in residence and painting classes, photography, poetry and heritage embroidery workshops and live performances in the Inn’s restaurant, the Twine Loft. Before making tourism her full time job, Marieke completed a BA at Memorial University of Newfoundland, a diploma at Marie Victorin Cegep in Community Development and Cross-Cultural Relations and completed her sommelier training at Algonquin College. In 2019 she and Tineke were co-awarded the Newfoundland and Labrador’s Tourism Achievement Award.