Close-up of a chef slashing milk with eggs on left

When Art Meets Food: Claire Tallarico and Tonia Di Risio

August 17, 2021

Our next Creative In Residence profile brings us in conversation with Claire Tallarico and Tonia Di Risio. Together, they work under the banner of Alchemy, a collaborative initiative that fosters community engagement by sharing art, food, and conversation.

In this feature, we hear from Claire Tallarico and Tonia Di Risio about their upcoming Ontario Culture Days 2021 Festival project.

Claire shares, “Alchemy [as a creative incubator] is about bringing artists and cooks together [and] looking at how sharing art and food can make a difference in how we think about our practice.”

Before the first COVID outbreak in 2020, Tonia and Claire created and facilitated six artist-led residencies attended by more than 70 artists from three continents. The connections and ongoing conversations sparked by those events continued to feed their collaboration.

For the past three summers they have returned to Hillier, Prince Edward County, to explore, learn and create. With each year, their respect, affection and understanding of the land and people, who call the tiny hamlet of Hillier home, continues to grow.

Through their annual programming and ongoing conversations with lifelong residents, farmers, vineyard owners and artists, they have developed a deeper appreciation for both the beauty and physically demanding work that come with living and working at the western edge of Prince Edward County. Their conversations led them to consider how the simple, yet profound acts of artmaking and food sharing can further foster community engagement for makers, residents, workers, and visitors.

Workers have supper at table outside in vineyard
Workers having supper at Red Tail Vineyards Credit: Kirstyn Mayers

With each wave of the pandemic, the traditional ways communities came and gathered either stopped, paused, or pivoted to new ways of working. Alchemy asked themselves, “What does an artististic program intent on community engagement as a critical part of their work do when their ways of gathering and collaborating literally disappear overnight?”

To respond to the pandemic as artists interested in deepening community engagement, and mindful of the central role the harvest plays in the life of Prince Edward County, Alchemy designed an initiative called Table Settings, “to acknowledge the contribution of farm and vineyard labourers, many of whom come from outside of Canada and all of whom work alongside local farm and vineyard owners to harvest food and grapes enjoyed in the county and beyond.”

Left: Two women exchanging paper bag with food. Right: Man smiles while holding pastry
Left: Table settings pick up at the Ridge kitchen in Clossen Chase Vineyards. Right: Angel at Red Tail Vineyards Credit Kirstyn Mayers

In both 2020 and 2021, two to three artists and cooks work each week behind the scenes to make Table Settings happen. Meal ingredients originate from and are purchased from local farms and fields. Funded by the locally based Storehouse Foodbank and the Prince Edward County Community Foundation, Table Settings works with local growers and makers to examine creative practice and community engagement themes and the role food plays within these themes.

Based on lively discussions within the Alchemy community, our funders, and supporters in Prince Edward County, this year Alchemy is facilitating collaborative site-specific projects and leading community-engaged activities with a curated group of local and visiting artists.

Alchemy’s participation in Culture Days 2021 has brought selected artists to continue work in progress from previous residencies in Hillier, explore new ideas, consider collaboration, and connect with residents, farm and vineyard owners, and seasonal agricultural workers. Claire and Tonia see members of each group as essential contributors to Hillier’s position as one of Ontario’s top wine-producing communities.

Left: Mural laid out on grass, Right: Mural laid out inside room
Alchemy artist Patti Randazzo Beckett mural at J.K Farms, Hillier. Credit Patti Randazzo Beckett

This year, visiting artists have been matched with local vineyards and farms to inspire new work or develop site-specific installations. The final works will be documented or left installed to exhibit as part of Culture Days programming.

As part of the Creatives in Residence 2021 project, Claire and Tonia say their work is to continue those conversations and begin new ones to discover, explore, learn, create, ask, and share the questions we have about this community. What has drawn people here over the centuries? What compels people to continue to make, grow, farm, and live here? How can our contributions to Hillier help collect and tell multiple stories?

Their 2021 plans continue with adherence to federal, provincial, and local COVID-related safety precautions to keep both community members and participating artists safe. Alchemy will also collect and share stories from Prince Edward County, while providing a window into their collaborative process. During the Ontario Culture Days Festival, Alchemy will share a tour of this project’s community, culinary, and creative work.

You can check out our full list of 2021 Creatives in Residence here.