Below the Line

Photo and words by Raven McCoy

Five summers ago Kenny Leighton was working at the Freedom Peer Support Centre in downtown Belleville providing support and services to those dealing with mental health and addiction issues. Every day after work he would ride his bike over to the market to visit with his friends and fellow artists Peter Paylor and Lisa Morris. Along with 4 million other Canadians, none of them were making enough money to put them above the $16, 124 poverty line. As artists, even with the minimum wage jobs they worked, there was nowhere they could hang their art in Belleville. Everywhere there were membership fees and hanging fees, none of which they could afford.

Out of this discontent of the state of the affairs within the art scene of Belleville came the motivation to do something: a new kind of art show that exhibited work created by artists facing the challenges of a limited income.

“We kicked around some ideas for how we could do a show where we turn the model upside-down,” said Peter Paylor. “So instead of paying to be in the show, we would actually help to subsidize the artists and give them back all of the money if they sold a piece, no commission, no nothing. So basically, it was all about the artists”.

Each year in conjunction with Downtown Docfest they take over what used to be the gallery in the old library building on Pinnacle street. On the opening night the art was lit by track lighting they installed themselves with money they fundraised, the food was prepared by Kenny and sits on dishes from his kitchen cupboards and hundreds of people are passing through and getting to see art of all kinds that they otherwise would miss out on.

“It’s a little different from what you’re going to see at Quinte Arts Council or Belleville Arts Association, just a little different, not better or worse or anything like that and now there’s a place for people to show that,” said Kenny.

Five years on and the show is still a huge success and their pool of artists is constantly growing. This past year the show featured 10 different artists including painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, and photographers, such as Michael Burke and Robert Tokley who joined for the first time.

Kenny’s words to people on how to support local arts are “just show up”. Whether it’s a punk show, or an art show or anything. If you don’t go to these things they aren’t going to be there anymore and that happens.

Lisa and Peter have recently opened a gallery in downtown Belleville and feature a new artist every month.The gallery is located on the corner of Bridge St. and Pinnacle, some might call it the ‘gallery district’ of Belleville.

Kenny Leighton continues to make art and music at this home/venue in Trenton called the Swindle Shoppe.

Check out Artists Below the Line on Facebook.
Raven McCoy is a photojournalism student at Loyalist College in Belleville. You can peep his portfolio here.
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