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Public art provides enriching experience at the MacLaren Art Centre



August 14, 2019


Kosso Eloul, Shlosha, 1974, stainless steel, 119.5 x 307.3 x 142.2 cm. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre. Gift of Beverley Zerafa and Boris Zerafa, 2001. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

With the new school year fast approaching, it’s tempting to think about taking a last-minute vacation or getaway with the family. But you don’t have to travel far to have an enjoyable experience away from home.

The MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie is home to over a dozen works of public art by contemporary Canadian artists, ranging from subtle, temporal installations to large-scale permanent sculptures. Found both indoors and outdoors, these creative landmarks are meant to inspire the imagination, while enlivening and enhancing the city of Barrie’s public spaces.

The MacLaren offers regular tours of its public art collection, along with self-guided family activities designed to help children and their caregivers have fun while learning about the work. All experiences are free for the public and available on a drop-in basis. The public is encouraged to visit the Gallery before or after the City’s Public Art Walks held on Wednesdays at 7 pm and Saturdays at 10 am this summer.

Of the many notable public artworks belonging to the MacLaren, Ron Baird’s Spirit Catcher is perhaps the most visible. Situated on Barrie’s waterfront, this monumental steel sculpture has served as a symbol for the city since its installation in 1987. It was the first artwork accessioned into the MacLaren’s Permanent Collection, which from that time, has grown to reflect the local and global values of a community that is continuously expanding.

Presiding over the Gallery’s Mulcaster Street landing, Tautology by Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater is one of a suite of five neon sculptures depicting the thunderbird, a legendary creature in various North American Indigenous cultures. Tautology explores notions of translation, repetition and symbolism to critically examine ideas of authorship and cultural appropriation.


John McEwen, Search Radio, 2001, steel. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid (left). Peter von Tiesenhausen, Bronze, 1997, tree branches, bronze, lost wood casting, 91 x 168 x 84 cm. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre. Gift of Stephen White, 1998 (right).

On the grounds of the MacLaren’s façade, sculptures by artists Kosso Eloul, Sorel Etrog and Ted Fullerton encourage private acts of introspection, inviting us to reflect on ethics, creativity and environmental care. Interior installations by regional artists John McEwen, Donald Stuart and Peter Dennis commissioned by the MacLaren speak to human creativity and curiosity. On the lower level of the Gallery, works by Hillsdale artist Marlene Hilton-Moore and Alberta-based artist Peter von Tiesenhausen comment on the delicate—and at times fraught—relationship between people and nature.

Public art provides meaning to civic spaces and inspires people to look at their environment in a new way. Promoting social and cultural conversation, public art fosters community building and local cultural development. It also generates uniqueness in communities and sometimes acts as a notable landmark driving tourism.

MacLaren Executive Director Carolyn Bell Farrell says, “By introducing art into the fabric of everyday life, we make art accessible to the larger community. Accessibility, physical and intellectual, is central to the conceptualization and presentation of our programmes at the MacLaren and at other venues.”

The MacLaren is open Monday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm, Wednesdays to 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. The facility includes a café, gift shop and full-service framing department. Admission is a $5 suggested donation.

For more information on the public artwork in the MacLaren’s Permanent Collection, contact Associate Director/Senior Curator Emily McKibbon at Information is also available in our online exhibition Public Art in the Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre, prepared by Assistant Curator/Registrar Noor Alé.



The MacLaren Art Centre gratefully acknowledges the support of its Members, Patrons, Donors, Sponsors, Partners, the City of Barrie, the Ontario Arts Council, the Government of Ontario, the Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage, the York Wilson Endowment Fund, the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation and donors Beverley Zerafa and Boris Zerafa, Sorel Etrog, Ted Fullerton, Stephen White, John McEwen, Marlene Hilton-Moore, Robert Lehman and Peter Dennis.