Gallery that showcased local women’s art to close this month

Laurel Paluck at the Ludmila Gallery during the First Friday Art Crawl on February 2, 2024. (Photo: Will Pearson)

The Ludmila Gallery will close for good in February 2024, marking the end of a five-year journey for Peterborough-based interdisciplinary artist and gallery owner Laurel Paluck, who announced the closure on social media last month.

For the last five years, Paluck’s white-walled exhibition space was a cornerstone venue for First Friday Peterborough, the monthly art crawl that brings hundreds of people downtown to view new art.

Paluck opened Ludmila Gallery on the second floor of the Commerce Building in February 2019 after the closure of another gallery, Coeur Nouveau, in the same space.

As a curator, Paluck said she was drawn to “regional female artists” who were “‘away from the larger cities [and] away from that kind of competition and influence.”

“These women have found their space [and] found their voices in their practice, and I want to know what they have to say,” she said.

The closure of Ludmila Gallery “leaves a big hole in the arts community,” according to local painter JoEllen Brydon, who exhibited at the gallery on several occasions. “The artists that [Paluck] has in her roster will all be feeling a big loss, I’m sure,” Brydon said.

Ludmila Gallery showed work by dozens of local artists over the years, from Brydon’s vivid domestic scenes to the playful charcoal figures of illustrator Kathryn Durst.

Paluck said she couldn’t pick a favourite exhibition. But Carolyn Code’s show Multiple Expanse sticks out in her memory because it coincided with the beginning of the pandemic.

As part of that show, Code had constructed “a big paper mache pink structure [with] pink discs radiating off of it,” Paluck described.

“It sort of looked like a virus,” she said. “It looked like a nose sneezing in many ways. That was a little prescient and unusual and strange and wonderful.”

Code’s show was only up for one week before the gallery had to shut down for the spring and summer of 2020 because of the pandemic. “I always sort of regretted that people really weren’t able to see that show.”

Carolyn Code’s Multiple Expanse exhibit at Ludmila Gallery in March 2020. (Photo courtesy of Ludmila Gallery)

A decline in sales was behind Paluck’s decision to close the gallery, she said.  

“I had a few shows this year where there were no sales,” she said. “That’s been very rare in the five years.”

Paluck believes the rising cost of living is curbing the appetite for art. People “don’t have an excess of cash” these days, she said. “Art purchases are not on the top of most people’s mind.”

“It’s just become harder and harder to survive as a commercial gallery.”

The 2023 winter solstice lantern parade, a tradition founded by Laurel Paluck. Creating and enjoying art is “great for our mental health, to feel that we’re connected to our own emotions,” Paluck said. (Photo: Will Pearson)

Paluck believes creating and enjoying art is an essential element in human flourishing. And while she is closing her gallery, she said she’ll continue to work as an arts educator and facilitator. 

Brydon was happy to hear that Paluck will continue her involvement in the local arts scene. “She really sets a fire under people,” Brydon said. “She’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met.”

Paluck demonstrated that creativity years ago when, facing a lack of affordable and accessible performance space in Peterborough, she started a series of outdoor theatre performances that roamed about downtown called the Alley Waltzes. The Alley Waltzes continue today in the form of an annual winter solstice lantern parade and performance. 

Paluck said she once again feels compelled to create art outside of traditional exhibition spaces like her Ludmila Gallery. “I’ve got some plans up my sleeve,” she said.

This article was adapated from Eddy Sweeney’s reporting for Trent Radio, which you can listen to here.

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