Elizabeth Fennell, Age 32
Elizabeth was born in Montreal and raised in Woodville, a small town of 600 in Ontario Canada. Drawn to the cultural scene of Peterborough, Ontario, she founded Gallery in the Attic where she acts as curator. She is also the founder of the Darkroom Project, a not-for-profit initiative which utilizes the historic Roy Studio darkroom, Canada’s longest continuously operating darkroom.
In the spring of 2013, Ash Nayler of Ash Nayler Photography spent some time with Elizabeth, photographing her for the SPARK Photography Festival at Natas Cafe. This summer Roula Kovios of SPARK 360 Media connected with her to find out more about what makes her a Red Pashmina Woman of Impact.
Can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
I organize art exhibitions by local artists, and host community events through my space, Gallery in the Attic. I also organize and administer a non-profit, the Darkroom Project, hosted in the GITA space, in the historic Roy Studio Darkroom.
Can you describe your volunteer background & community involvement?
I’m an active volunteer at ARTSPACE and Market Hall, also with Public Energy Inc., SPARK Photography Festival and whatever else comes up. Theatre on King as well, occasionally.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
I love the thriving cultural scene in Peterborough, but gradually became aware of some gaps, like a lack of professional exhibition space for emerging local artists. I want to do something meaningful, with a tangible impact on the community, which supports artists where they need it most — getting exposure and sales.
What are you most excited or passionate about?
Promoting local talent.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in the work you do?
I want to create a sustainable model for a community-supported art gallery, one that generates revenue for artists as well as an income for its administrator (me!).
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?
Many people have influenced where I am now. Through my first Peterborough job, working on the archives at ARTSPACE for their 35th anniversary, I was exposed to many different people in the arts community who had not only founded and supported the artist-run-centre, but had gone on to start other projects and organizations. Bill Kimball is one of my role models. As a non-artist who produces and supports amazing artistic performances through Public Energy, Bill is a great example of how people can contribute to a city’s cultural landscape by creating opportunities for artistic display.
Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today?
Losing a job and falling in love have basically shaped my current path… helping me find a direction in the midst of seeming uncertainty.
Your strongest personality trait:
Organization, by far. Whether it’s people or objects, it’s something I’ve always leaned towards.
Who are some of the amazing women in your life? What is it about these women that makes them amazing?
Peterborough is full of amazing women: strong, creative, independent, intelligent women are all around me. Several professors at Trent (Carolyn Kay, Joan Sangster) were amazing examples of thoughtful, critical voices, encouraging me to think about the world around me in new ways, to challenge accepted ideas, and not be afraid to engage with the world in my own way. In the arts world a few come to mind, people dedicated to their craft and the community like: Em Glasspool, Laurel Paluk, and Fynn Leitch, to name just a couple.
What does the Red Pashmina scarf personally mean to you?
The Red Pashmina has been an amazing experience — introducing me to women who are making a difference in their own parts of the community. It’s been wonderful to learn more about women outside the arts scene, who are doing equally important community-building work. It was also an honour to be called a ‘Woman of Impact’… my initial beginnings were really just an effort to survive in this town, doing something I loved, so to have that effort acknowledged by people I didn’t even know at the time, was a real boost for the project, making me realize my actions had worth beyond my immediate circle.
What led/ attracted you to becoming an advocate for the Red Pashmina Campaign?
It was in my periphery: it was impossible to miss Maryam Monsef on social media and seeing the red scarves around town. I became personally involved Christmas 2012, when I asked if I could sell these symbolic scarves at Gallery in the Attic. I’m always happy to bring something into the space that supports a great cause, and the Red Pashmina Campaign is a truly worthy cause.
How has being a “Woman of Impact” changed your life?
I think it’s given me greater confidence in what I’m doing, that it’s not just a flash in the pan, temporary thing, that the gallery is actually something this community really values, needs, and wants to see continue. That acknowledgment has gone a long way to sustaining my energy for the project in its early phase, and inspiring me to continue building it into something that will become a going concern, and part of the cultural fabric of Peterborough.
Philosophy of life/ favourite quote:
My life philosophy is captured in a tattoo I have on my wrist. It says, “Be not another, if thou canst be thyself.” Often attributed to Robertson Davies, the original Latin is by Paracelsus, a 14th century philosopher and scientist. The tattoo and quote remind me daily that I will be the best at what I do, if I’m true to my own identity.
The Red Pashmina Campaign would like to thank our volunteers and creative partners for helping make the Women of Impact initiative possible. Through their efforts, we are able to tell the stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.
Part of the Red Pashmina Campaign’s mandate is to celebrate and connect women here and around the world. And the best way to build a community is to share our stories and support the people we care about. Over 100 women have been recognized, and their stories are waiting to be told. If you would like to find out how you can become involved in this component of the Red Pashmina Campaign, please email us a firstname.lastname@example.org.