How to Experience the Bonavista Biennale

In the art world, a biennale refers to a large, international exhibition held every two years in a certain location. World-renowned artists present their work in various settings, and the results are jaw dropping. Think of it as a treasure hunt for incredible art.

While most biennales take place in major cities like Venice and Montreal, the Bonavista Biennale is unique because all of the art is displayed around rural communities and the coastline of the Bonavista Peninsula. It’s a bi-annual exhibition of contemporary visual art by Indigenous, Newfoundland and Labrador, and other Canadian and international artists. Here’s an opportunity to hike the coastline, visit some towns you’ve maybe overlooked, and discover art in unexpected places.

So how do you make the most of your experience?

Do Your Research

The Bonavista Peninsula is BIG—there’s a lot driving involved! If you’re short on time and you want to make the most of your trip, you should figure out which artworks you want to see the most, especially considering the Biennale has upwards of 26+ art installations.

Philippa Jones' installation at the Alexander Mortuary Chapel of All Souls, Bonavista (2021)

 Follow the Bonavista Biennale’s social media for more information about the installations, or check out the various artists on the Bonavista Biennale website. Read the artist bios to learn more about what each artist hopes to accomplish with their unique work. You’ll get some sense of what you’d like to see the most—however, half the fun is discovering these artworks for the first time, so give yourself some flexibility! There’s something special about driving into a tiny town like Upper Amherst Cove and seeing a giant life-sized t-rex installation in motion.

You don’t have to be a patron of the arts to fully appreciate the Biennale. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s an interactive music piece or a more subtle gallery feature that’ll leave you contemplating its deeper meaning. Soak it all in, and try something new.

Plan Your Route

Searching for the Biennale installations is half the fun—it’s like a treasure hunt for artistic curiosities on the coast. If you’re a repeat visitor to the peninsula, perhaps this will give you an opportunity to explore some new communities you may have overlooked, like Duntara and Keels.

Marcia Huyer's work at The Matthews House, Duntara (2021)

If you’ve never been to the Bonavista Peninsula before, this is the perfect time to explore. Larger towns like Bonavista and Trinity tend to have several art pieces in one area (often within walking distance), so you’ll be able to take in a lot while getting to know the place.

Stop at any Visitor Information Centre and pick up a Biennale map. Cell phone service is limited around here, so the map will keep you oriented while driving!

Make it Fun

First thing’s first: pick up a Bonavista Biennale passport. This nifty little souvenir has a complete list of artistic sites around the peninsula. Get your passport stamped for any of the sites you visit at one of the indoor sites along the way. Fill up your passport, and you’ve got a souvenir for life.

Photography on display at the Quinton Premises, Red Cliff

 Be sure to also check out the Bonavista Biennale event page for fun things happening when you visit, including opportunities to meet the artists, participate in workshops, and set out on nature walks. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at a new artistic endeavour—whether it’s photography or printmaking or watercolour painting—here’s your chance.

Plan Ahead for the Biennale

The Biennale takes place every two years on the Bonavista Peninsula, typically from mid-August to mid-September (although dates may change). If you’re planning on visiting each installation, give yourself a few days to do it.

 Be sure to also book ahead for your accommodations in the area—and it doesn’t hurt to make dinner reservations either. This event becomes more and more popular each time it occurs, drawing art lovers from all around the world, and you won’t want to miss your chance to experience it all firsthand.  

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