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A side order of art to go with that

Elmira’s Kitchen Kuttings is home to one of the 50 artist-decorated picnic tables placed at restaurants around the region. This one was designed by Salomé Perez. The project is the work of Explore Waterloo Region. [Damon Maclean]

Tired of cooking or relying on fast-food delivery? Local restaurateurs are welcoming people back, offering up a side order of art as an enticement.

On patios across the region, colourful picnic tables painted by local artists await visitors to a range of establishments.

Art Fresco is a public art collaboration between local artists and restaurants that supports both groups at the same time. Created by the tourism organization Explore Waterloo Region, the project has placed some 50 unique tables at various locations.

“The Art Fresco project came about as a way to try to support two industries that were particularly hard hit with the pandemic, the hospitality industry and the art industry, in this case visual arts,” explains the  group’s Diane Murenbeeld of the idea behind the art-meets-food-meets-socialization project.

Murenbeeld went on to explain the process of selection for the visual artists. Denis Longchamps from the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, Shirley Madill from Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, and Susan Coolen, a local visual artist, were the three members of the selection committee.

“The three served as the selection committee to review concepts that were selected from Waterloo Region and beyond,” said Murenbeeld.

Where to place the finished tables involved yet more factors. “One was geography, to try and spread them fairly across Waterloo Region. There was a high demand in certain areas, but we wanted to ensure that we had representation in our rural municipalities as well as our cities.”

Rural locations such as Woolwich and Wellesley townships were not forgotten. Local sites and photos of the art at the locations can be found at the Explore Waterloo Region website. In Woolwich Township, there are six tables, located at Jacob’s Grill, Kitchen Kuttings, EcoCafe, Sip ‘N Bite, The Village Biergarten and The Village Colonnade. Wellesley Township is home to three pieces, one each at Grammy’s Espresso Bar, The 86’, and The Olde Heidelberg Restaurant.

Beyond the locales, the project has other ties to the townships: wood was sourced from St. Clements, and Home Hardware and Beauti-Tone provided additional supplies. The tables were brought to Lot 42 in Kitchener, where artists were invited to submit designs and come onsite to paint the picnic tables.

Organizers then attempted to connect themes in the artwork to locations. For example, one bench was inspired by the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, so it was placed at the Chrysalis Café. The bench was painted by Anne Williamson, who described her concept on the picnic table’s profile on the campaign’s website. “In these trying times we’ve had to slow down, value what is near and dear to us, and feel fortunate for this wonderful world. I’ve been noticing the butterflies in the garden, and they, the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, provided inspiration for my design.”

The last factor for consideration was a desire for tables from community members. “We just wanted to learn of any places looking for a table,” explained Murenbeeld.

Explore Waterloo Region encourages people to visit patios and participate in their #ArtFrescoDining campaign by taking selfies at the tables.

“The reason we went with tables as a public art project was also in keeping the pandemic in mind. It was naturally a social bubble friendly piece of furniture that might entice people who are a bit nervous about going out that they can safely dine together with their bubble and still be outdoors,” she said.

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