When Art Meets Food: Claire Tallarico and Tonia Di Risio



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, Claire and Tonia speak about their upcoming Ontario Culture Days 2021 Festival project.

Claire shares, “Alchemy brings artists and cooks together in community settings to examine how the sharing art and food makes a difference on two fronts: in the community itself, and in the creative practices of the artists and makers we collaborate with.”

Photo Credit: Kirstyn Mayers

Before the first COVID outbreak in 2020, Tonia and Claire created and facilitated six artist-led residencies on the Toronto Islands and in rural Prince Edward County. These residencies attended by more than 80 artists from three continents. The connections and ongoing conversations sparked during those six residencies fed a growing collaboration between Tonia and Claire.

2021 marks the fifth year the pair they have returned to Hillier on the western edge of 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, Tonia and Claire 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.

Photo 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. Claire and Tonia asked themselves and those who know Alchemy – “How will we collaborate when our traditional ways of gathering and collaborating have literally disappeared over night? We questioned how we as artists could strengthen our growing collaborations in the County and at the same time, acknowledge the isolation felt by many on the community as a result of an unprecedented pandemic.”

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 Table Settings, an initiative “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.”

In both 2020 and 2021, two to three artists and cooks collaborate each week behind the scenes to make Table Settings happen. Meal ingredients originate in and are purchased from local farms and producers, benefitting the local economy. With ingredients funded by the locally based Storehouse Food Bank and the Prince Edward County Community Foundation, Table Settings works with visiting and local artists, growers and makers to examine creative practice and community engagement, and the role food plays within these themes. In 2021, Table Settings scope and scale has increased from 2020’s 600 plus meals to nearly double that number of suppers.

Photo Credit: Kirstyn Mayers

This year, visiting and local artists are not only in the kitchen two days per week preparing Table Settings suppers, each artist (expected to be nine in total) has been matched with local vineyards and farms to develop site-specific installations as part of Ontario Culture Days programming.

Selected artists spend for two to three weeks in Hillier continuing the work from previous years, exploring new ideas, considering collaboration, and connecting 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.

Photo Credit: Kirstyn Mayers

As part of the Creatives in Residence 2021 project, Claire and Tonia say their work is to foster collaborations between Alchemy artists and the community.  Says Tonia: “we continue conversations from previous time spent here 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 preserve and share multiple stories?”

The duo’s  2021 plans continue with adherence to federal, provincial, and local COVID-related safety precautions to keep both community members and participating artists safe. During the growing season, the photographs in this essay and others during the harvest season are shared both through Ontario Culture Days and on social media.

Header photo: Claire Tallarico and Tonia Di Risio. Photos provided by: Kirstyn Mayers (KM), Tonia Di Risio (TD), Claire M. Tallarico (CT), Patti Randazzo Beckett (PB)

You can check out our 2021 Creatives in Residence line-up here.

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