The arts are alive and well in Minto

By Juanita Wilkins in Arts & Music, Community, Places, Events, & History

In a time when more and more live music venues are closing, it is exciting to see a grass-roots movement keeping music alive in at least one small community. It all started with the vision of three Harriston residents, Judy Tuck, Val Harrison, and Gord Duff, who saw the need for a place for local artists to strut their stuff. The Arts Council started as the Harriston-Minto Heritage Gallery in 1997. When the Town of Minto, comprised of Harriston, Palmerston and Clifford and their accompanying outlying rural populations, was formed in 1999, they became the Minto Arts Council, and broadened their mandate to support the arts in various forms – visual, musical, heritage and spoken word.
As well as the art and heritage exhibitions held in the Heritage Gallery, annual Hallowe’en story sessions were featured, and the Basement Café was born. We are now into our 10th year of Basement Café “coffee-house” concerts, and the Café is a very successful, much-anticipated, thrice-yearly event. We have featured both locally and nationally-recognized artists who have been thrilled to play to sold-out houses.
Showcasing Canadian talents such as James Gordon, Katherine Wheatley, Richard Knechtel, Terry Tufts, Wendell Ferguson, (to name just a few), the Café is a real treat for local music fans. Featured in the next Basement Café on June 12, 2010, is the wonderful Tannis Slimmon, Canadian Folk Music Awards’ contemporary vocalist of the year.
A performance at the Café is a real treat for the performers as well. Says the legendary Marie-Lynn Hammond of Stringband fame: “As out-of-town gigs go, it just doesn’t get any better than performing in (the Town of Minto)! The organizers went out of their way to take care of all our needs, including asking ahead of time about our food preferences/allergies and then cooking a delicious supper that took me, the annoying vegetarian, into account. The audience was attentive and enthusiastic, and getting to meet some of them at the post-concert party was a blast. The icing on the cake is that we were put up in a splendid Victorian B&B (The Meiklejohn House), which saved us driving home in the dark and the freezing rain. This may be a very small town, but it clearly has a BIG heart — and an excellent arts council.”
It is amazing what a group of dedicated volunteers can accomplish. The gallery has received only one – small – government grant during its many years of operation. Staffed and maintained entirely by volunteers, the gallery has become one of Minto’s primary tourist attractions. The council’s main fundraiser, a yearly Christmas Auction, is keenly supported by local citizens and businesses, and serves as a meeting point for artisans and art appreciators. Likewise, the Basement Café is brought to life by a swarm of volunteers who promote the event, sell tickets, set up and beautifully decorate the venue, bake tempting desserts, cook a terrific supper for the visiting musicians, provide sound support, MC the event, then stay and tear it all down afterward.
The most recent Basement Café on February 13, 2010, was a huge success – our first time offering “Dinner & A Show”. Guests were literally wined and dined with a beautifully catered three-course dinner (thank you to Jake and Shauna of South Street Gourmet) and Ontario VQA wine. They were then treated to a spirited and hugely enjoyable concert featuring Marie-Lynn Hammond (formerly of Stringband) and Tom Leighton (of Haines & Leighton). This is big-city entertainment offered right here in our own backyard!
The Minto Arts Council has come a long way since its inception. The board of directors has expanded to include local visual artists, musicians, and interested community members who work tirelessly to make sure that art and music are always available to the community. As an encouragement to student artists, the council has instituted the “Archie” arts achievement award and bursary.
Minto Arts also now has a website:, which contains all upcoming events and contact information for anyone wanting to participate in our events.
Looking for a worthwhile volunteer experience? Please think about joining this award-winning organization. And, we welcome you to come and check out the art in the gallery, and attend a Basement Café. You won’t be disappointed!
Juanita Wilkins is the Music Director for the Minto Arts Council