Markham's Virtual Public Art Summit

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Becoming Public Art: Working Models & Case Studies for Art in Public is a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham, in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd.

October 13 to December 8, 2020
Every Tuesday
1:30 PM - 3:00 PM EST
(unless otherwise noted)

Free admission. Registration required.

The City of Markham has one of the most diverse populations in Canada and a fast-developing urban environment. As part of the City’s emerging public art program, Becoming Public Art aims to develop resources for those interested in the practice of contemporary public art.

In a series of virtual sessions open to the public, professionals in the field will present the broad range of perspectives that shape public art making today.

Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.



Session 1: Keynote Presentation by Ken Lum

October 13

Co-presented by Canadian Art


In this special presentation, internationally celebrated artist Ken Lum lays out the key points that public artists, or persons interested in public art, need to consider regarding the role of public art in society today. The keynote considers how public art is called upon to perform as a so-called public good, while at the same time it has become instrumentalized by administrative language. Lum presents these key points as an index of terms essential for every public artist to know. Lum will also speak about this moment as a “monuments moment” brought about by the unprecedented change to our collective existence under a global pandemic, which catalyzes a re-examination of public space and the institutions that govern it.

Ken Lum is an artist born and raised in Vancouver and currently based in Philadelphia. His work has been exhibited at documenta 11, the Venice Biennale, Shanghai Biennale, Carnegie International, Whitney Biennial, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. He has produced public artworks in cities from Rotterdam to Burnaby, including his Monument for East Vancouver (2010) on Clark Avenue in Vancouver. Lum was recently awarded the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts (2020), the Gershon Iskowitz Prize (2020), and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2017. He is co-founder of Monument Lab and is the Marilyn Jordan Taylor Penn Professor in the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania and Chair of the Department of Fine Art.



Session 2: Collaborative Process

October 20

Featuring:
Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins
James Khamsi, Director, DCSK
Stephen Richards, Streamliner Fabrication
Stefan Pilipa, Lead Fabricator, Punchclock Metalworks Inc.
Moderator:

David Turnbull, Director of Public Art & Conservation, Edmonton Arts Council

How to establish a collaborative process between the artist, architect, and fabricator, with a shared view to outcome? What is the role that collaboration plays in facilitating complexity? How to push the boundaries of what is possible from a design, engineering, and art-meaning perspective?


Artists Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins frequently collaborate with architect James Khamsi. Together, they have completed four major public art commissions. The trio will discuss how collaboration, as a working method, informs the design of public projects that feature site responsiveness, integrated practice, and multidisciplinary approaches. They will show how their collective process involves the conception and execution of projects that push the boundaries of what is possible. They will be joined by fabricators Steve Richards and Stefan Pilipa, who will shed light on the challenges of bringing ideas into physical reality.

Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins are an artist duo based in Toronto. Their work is in private collections and public institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. They also produce permanent and temporary public art, with commissions in Canada and the United States. They have lectured at galleries and institutions nationally and internationally, including Concordia University, Montreal; Tulane School of Architecture, New Orleans; and SOMA, Mexico City. They are represented by Cristin Tierney in New York.

James Khamsi designs across a range of scales—from urban master plans to furniture pieces—working in the UK, the US, Canada, and Europe. Prior to founding DCSK, James was the founding principal of FIRM (NY). He has practiced with leading architects, including Foreign Office Architects, where he worked on the London 2012 Olympic Park Masterplan. James received his BArch from Cornell University, and his Masters of Architecture with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Steve Richards and his company Streamliner Fabrication Inc. in Toronto, have established an international reputation in the design and arts community for bringing an extraordinary skill set and craft to public projects. Based on his experience as a designer and artist, Richards’ sensitivity to materials, and the toughness of his approach to problem solving, has set an enviable standard for public art everywhere.

Stefan Pilipa is the President and Lead Fabricator at Punchclock Metalworks in Toronto.

David Turnbull has been with the Edmonton Arts Council since 2009. He holds a Master of Art Conservation degree from Queen’s University, and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The most rewarding part of his job is meeting artists and understanding the work they do, while thinking about how artists can build communities and bring people together.



Session 3: A Civic Role for Artists

October 27

Featuring:
Carolyn Bowen, Manager, Watershed Planning, City of Calgary
Shirley Levy, Chief of Staff, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
Moderator:
Michèle Pearson Clarke, visual artist and Photo Laureate, City of Toronto

Through two case studies, the Watershed+ program hosted by the City of Calgary, and the Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program, run by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the session will explore: How to integrate the artist into city infrastructure? Can the artist act as an urban problem solver? What is the civic role of the artist?


Watershed+ is an innovative program, with a new model of working within a municipality and a goal of building a lasting and meaningful relationship between citizens and their watershed. By embedding artists within the organization, valuing their processes, and integrating it from the beginning of a project, it allows for the possibility of citizens to connect with nature in a way they haven't before. This collaborative and multidisciplinary approach is not just about creating practical solutions. Rather, it strives to provoke, create intrigue, and reveal the complex systems that integrate a city and its watershed. This presentation will explore Watershed +, the working process, implementation, and examples of remarkable places that encourage sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

Carolyn Bowen has been with The City of Calgary for twenty years and is passionate about public service, public art and the environment. As Manager of Watershed Planning in the Water Utility, Bowen and her team ensure Calgary’s watershed is healthy today into the future, and resilient to floods and drought. Through education and outreach programs they connect citizens to our rivers. Bowen works with the Watershed Plus art program and has a MSc. and a Masters Certificate in Municipal Leadership.

Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) is a municipal residency program that embeds artists in city government to propose and implement creative solutions to pressing civic challenges. Launched in the fall of 2015, PAIR takes its inspiration and its name from the pioneering work of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the first official (unsalaried) artist-in-residence with the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), 1977 – present. PAIR is based on the premise that artists are creative problem-solvers. They are able to create long-term and lasting impact by working collaboratively and in open-ended processes to build community bonds, open channels for two-way dialogue, and reimagine realities to create new possibilities for those who experience and participate in the work.

As Chief of Staff for the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), Shirley Levy is part of the executive team managing the largest municipal funder for arts and culture in the U.S. Since 2012, Shirley has co-created and directs the NYC Public Artists-in-Residence (PAIR) program (2015); leads AREA, the Affordable Real Estate for Artists initiative (2016); created the Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact (2017); and launched City Canvas, (2019). Recently, she is focusing on the agency’s response to COVID-19.

Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist, writer and educator who works in photography, film, video and installation. She is currently the inaugural 2020-2021 artist-in-residence at the University of Toronto’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and the Photo Laureate for the City of Toronto (2019-2022). As part of that role, she sits on the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee for ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021, which will kick-off the City’s new 10-Year Public Art Strategy.



Session 4: Art and Urban Planning

November 3

Featuring:
Ellen Blumenstein, Artistic Director, Imagine the City, Hamburg
Moderator:
Brenda Webster Tweel, Stantec’s Urban Places
Respondents:
Parvathi Nampoothiri, Manager, Urban Design, City of Markham
Richard Fournier, Manager, Parks & Open Space Development, City of Markham

What is the role of culture and art in the development of future cities? What can and should it be? How to embed public art within the process of urban planning? Can it become an integral part of the process? This session will bring you a featured presentation of Hamburg’s experimental cultural program, Imagine the City, followed by a group discussion with Toronto and Markham based urban designers.


Imagine the City is a young and experimental cultural program that develops exemplary new formats at the intersection between art and city planning in the HafenCity of Hamburg. In her presentation, founding director Ellen Blumenstein will introduce one upcoming and two completed projects and discuss how fictitious arrangements are capable of bringing groups of users into contact with one another. Blumenstein sheds light on the workings of the program and explains her vision for art and culture’s role in future cities.

As HafenCity’s first curator, starting in August 2017, Ellen Blumenstein has been drawing up long-term strategies to make cultural events accessible to a broad public. She was chief curator at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin from 2012-2016, producing solo exhibitions by Kader Attia (2013), Lizzie Fitch / Ryan Trecartin (2014), and Renzo Martens (2015), among others, and the thematic exhibitions Under Weapons. Fire & Forget (with Daniel Tyradellis, 2015), and Secret Surface. Where Meaning Materializes (with Catherine Wood, 2016).

Brenda Webster Tweel is a champion for urban renewal with international experience and a focus on process and interdisciplinarity. She integrates technical foundations in landscape architecture, architecture and urban design to build resilient solutions. With over 20 years of experience leading urban designs and master plans, she has an exceptionally strong record with large, complex, multi-stakeholder projects. Webster Tweel gains understanding of community needs through iterative observations, tests the ideas through collaboration, and delivers solutions that are embedded in community governance.

Parvathi Nampoothiri is a planner, urban designer and strategic thinker, and has worked in Canada, UAE, USA and India. With her multi-disciplinary background and leadership skills, Parvathi develops creative, context-sensitive approaches to design while balancing stakeholder needs. She has led interdisciplinary teams that span geographies to deliver master plans, urban revitalization plans and design guidelines. Parvathi strongly believes in creating places and communities that are functional, sustainable and attractive through collaboration, innovation and design excellence.

Richard Fournier is the Manager of Parks & Open Space Development at the City of Markham. He works closely with public and private stakeholders to provide communities with sustainable park systems that facilitate healthy, happy, diverse and equitable outdoor opportunities. Richard is a certified landscape architect with the OALA and CSLA. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMI), and has completed his master’s certificate in Municipal Leadership from the Schulich School of Business.


Session 5: Accessibility

November 10

Featuring:
Paul Amenta, artist and founder of SiTE:LAB
Christopher Smit & Jill Vyn, co-founders of DisArt
Maayan Ziv, CEO AccessNow
Devon Ostrom, curator, artist and advocate
Moderator:
Kevin Buist, independent curator and writer

Who is public art, and public space, for? Who is included in the conversation and experience that public art creates? What does it mean to use the idea of “access” as a creative catalyst? This session features two presentations and a group discussion on the subject of accessibility through the lens of public art projects.


Artist Paul Amenta, creator of SiTE:LAB, and producers and disability advocates Christopher Smit and Jill Vyn from DisArt (all based in Grand Rapids, MI), have been collaborating on award-winning public art projects since 2015’s DisArt Festival. Their work is driven by a commitment to reorganizing the understanding of accessibility, aesthetics, and community making. In this presentation, titled Access as Art, they will discuss their work, the communities they collaborate with, and their future projects.

In their presentation, Maayan Ziv and Devon Ostrom will talk about their experience mapping 100km of art and trails in Toronto, and their future ideas for improving access to the built environment and how it is shaped. Whereas Devon will touch on institutional constraints to greater access, Maayan will focus on the physical and digital realm, along with the benefits of making spaces more accessible to all users.

Paul Amenta is a visual artist working across disciplines, including site-specific installation, architectural intervention, film and video, and large-scale collaborative public projects. Amenta is the founder of SiTE:LAB, and holds an MFA from The School of Visual Arts in New York, and a BFA from Grand Valley State University.

SiTE:LAB is a nomadic all-volunteer artist-led initiative that creates temporary public art projects aimed at facilitating dynamic collaborations between the art, design, education, business, and cultural communities of Grand Rapids.

Christopher Smit and Jill Vyn together co-founded DisArt in 2015, an organization committed to advancing a cultural understanding of Disability. By taking disability out of the space of speculation, mystery, or fear, and placing it in an historical and aesthetic context, DisArt amplifies the voice, visibility, and value of the Disabled community. Through public speaking, publishing, cutting-edge programming, and organizational consulting, Christopher Smit, PhD (University of Iowa), and Jill Vyn, MSW (University of Michigan) have become respected voices throughout the world.

DisArt is a production company and arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a Disabled culture. DisArt believes that expressions of a Disabled cultural identity can transform society from awareness to understanding to belonging, creating a society that enjoys the full and equitable participation of all Disabled people.

Maayan Ziv is an activist, photographer and entrepreneur based in Toronto. From a young age, Maayan challenged norms to increase awareness of disability issues and improve accessibility. Maayan founded and leads the social enterprise, AccessNow, and holds an MA in Digital Media from Ryerson University. She has received the City of Toronto Access Award and the David C. Onley Leadership in Accessibility Award in recognition of her commitment to improving the lives of people of all abilities.

AccessNow is a grassroots social start-up. Our mission is to share accessibility information around the world by mapping as many places as we possibly can—and we invite you to help us! A worldwide community, passionate about change, together we can empower each other to have access now.

Devon Ostrom is an artist and graduate of the London School of Economics. Works include a mural/research project in a maximum security prison and the co-creation of a billboard tax that has raised over $89m for art in Toronto. Along with an MPA (w. distinction in Regulatory Analysis) Devon holds an MA in Curating and is certified in HR and NPO Management. Currently, Devon teaches Cultural Policy and is a Park People Fellow.

Kevin Buist is an independent curator, writer and former Artistic Director of ArtPrize, where he oversaw artists, operations, and design. He holds a MA in Visual and Critical Studies from Kendall College of Art and Design. His writing has been featured in numerous print and online publications, including the Art:21 Blog, where he was a Blogger in Residence, as well as MNartists.org, Michigan Quarterly Review, and kevinbuist.com/blog.


Session 6: Placemaking and Public Art

November 17

Featuring:
Native Art Department International (Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan)
Mary Anne Barkhouse, artist
Moderator:
Tania Willard, artist, curator, Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan

How do we address indigeneity in the process of placemaking? How do we bring the conversation about land rights into public art practice through an indigenous perspective? How do we continue this conversation in response to the moment's social justice movement? This session features two presentations and a group discussion that explore land rights and public art practice considered in the light of these questions. The session is moderated by Tania Willard.

Native Art Department International is the collaborative long-term project of Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan. It focuses on communications platforms and art-world systems of support, while at the same time functioning as an emancipation from essentialism and identity-based artwork. It seeks to circumvent easy categorization by comprising curated exhibitions, video screenings, panel talks, collective art making, and an online presence; however, all activities contain an undercurrent of positive progress through cooperation and non-competition.

When Maria and Jason created Native Art Department International in 2016, neither of them could have predicted the dramatic course of global events that would follow. We are now in an art world that reflects the broader debates regarding who is allowed to have presence and who is not, who is allowed to have shared experiences and who is not. In this context, the concerns of artists invested in creating spaces for being, seeing, speaking, and listening is of urgent importance. They will talk about their proposed Double Gazebo project (commissioned to be unveiled at the original, in-person iteration of Becoming Public Art) as a structure created to invite public involvement, the interruption of this project, and its eventual reintroduction into a changed public environment.

Mary Anne Barkhouse has strong ties to both coasts as her mother is from the Nimpkish band, Kwakiutl First Nation of Alert Bay, BC, and her father is of German and British descent from Nova Scotia. A descendant of a long line of internationally recognized artists, including Ellen Neel, Mungo Martin and Charlie James, she graduated with Honours from the Ontario College of Art and has exhibited widely in Canada and the United States. Her work is in major collections across Canada.

Response to landscape is at the core of Mary Anne Barkhouse’s work. Engaging with multiple layers of history and disrupting the anthropocentric gaze, her installations offer vignettes through which we can view the environments that gave rise to indigenous cultures. While depiction of the “human” is not included in her sculptures, it is inferred through the interpretation of the species she portrays and their placement… and gives rise to questions surrounding occupation, land, authority and possible futures.

Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation and settler heritage, works within the shifting ideas around contemporary and traditional, often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures. Willard’s curatorial work includes the touring exhibition, Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (2012-2014), co-curated with Kathleen Ritter. In 2016 Willard received the Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art from the Hanatyshyn Foundation as well as a City of Vancouver Book Award for the catalogue for the exhibition Unceded Territories: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. Willard's ongoing collaborative project BUSH gallery, is a conceptual land-based gallery grounded in Indigenous knowledges. Willard is an Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan in Syilx territories and her current research intersects with land-based art practices.


Session 7: Site-Specificity and Public Art

November 24

Featuring:
Maggie Groat, artist
Paul Wong, artist
Randy Niessen, Public Art Program, City of Calgary
Moderator:
Annie Wong, artist

Featuring three presentations and a group discussion, this session asks the questions: What does site-specificity mean if we think about “site” as an ever-changing condition? Urban sites are in flux, with changing geographies and demographics, how can this be addressed in public art practice? How to cultivate conversations about the site’s past, present, and future?


Through strategic mobilization of collage methodologies and alternative forms of research, Maggie Groat is interested in the formulation of site-responsive works that call attention to deep time, shifting territory, locational identities and possible futures. Focusing on a selection of recent projects, including a look at The Lake, (Art Metropole, Toronto, 2014), Deep Time, Portals, Particles and Pulls, (Armoury Street, Toronto, 2019), and STSTS (Western Front, Vancouver, 2017-2020), Groat will discuss approaches and considerations around what it means for her to engage site-specifically, and what she has learned from her engagements with place and time.


Paul Wong’s presentation will focus on a recent series of multidisciplinary public art projects in Vancouver’s Chinatown. They will include 身在唐人街 / OCCUPYING CHINATOWN that featured engagements created during a year-long artist residency at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Wong’s Chinatown studio, from March 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. prideinchinatown.com is now an annual festival celebrating pan-Asian LGBTQ2 art and culture of which Wong is the Artistic Director. He currently has in development the Sounds of Chinatown, a sound installation, and the Occupying Chinatown book, which will be released in 2021. This illustrated talk will be live from Wong’s studio in the heart of Chinatown.


Randy Niessen’s talk focuses on Calgary’s Chinatown, which is currently at a crossroads. The neighborhood is facing increasing pressure from developers wanting to access the area’s valuable location while its community is advocating to preserve its distinct and important cultural identity. This tension has been a catalyst for community stakeholders and The City of Calgary to work together on significant planning documents that will aim to shape the future of the area. Through this, the Calgary Chinatown Artist Residency was created, an opportunity that embeds artists into the community to research the rich history, culture and built environment of Calgary Chinatown and its current sociopolitical context. Niessen will shed light on the process of this residency—how it not only allows the artists to create new works in response to Calgary Chinatown, but also to influence the civic planning documents underway.


Maggie Groat utilizes a range of media to interrogate methodologies of collage and salvage practices. Informed by her Skarú:ręʔ and Settler backgrounds, her role as a mother, and the impacts of the Anthropocene, her current research surrounds site-responsiveness, shifting territories, decolonial ways-of-being, Indigenous Futurisms, gardens, slowness, margins, and the transformative potentials of found and ritual materials. She is a Visual Studies Lecturer at the University of Toronto and lives on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Chonnonton, and Anishinaabeg.


Paul Wong is a media-maestro making art for site-specific spaces and screens of all sizes. With a career spanning four decades, he is an award-winning artist and curator who is known for pioneering early visual and media art in Canada, founding several artist-run groups, (VIVO Media Art Centre, On Main/On The Cutting Edge Production Society, leading public arts policy, and organizing events, festivals, conferences and public interventions since the 1970s.


Randy Niessen holds a BFA from Alberta University of the Arts and is currently pursuing a dual MA in Arts Management with an MFA degree from Claremont Graduate University. He has experience working with artist-run centres, festivals and municipal art programs, and currently works at The City of Calgary as a Public Art Coordinator. Randy has been involved in many acclaimed public art initiatives including WATERSHED+ and the Calgary Chinatown Artist Residency.


Annie Wong is a writer and multidisciplinary artist working in performance and installation. Conceptually diverse, her practice explores the intersections between the political and poetic in everyday life. Wong has presented across North America and has held residencies with the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Power Plant, and the Varley Art Gallery of Markham. Her recent literary works in poetry, art writing, and non-fiction can be found in The Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art; C Magazine; Canadian Art; and MICE Magazine.



Session 8: Temporary Programming

December 1

Featuring:
Rina Greer, public art consultant
Jayne Wilkinson, Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Art, with Yan Wu, Markham Public Art
Ilana Altman, Co-Executive Director, The Bentway
Tairone Bastien, Curator, Toronto Biennial of Art
Kari Cwynar, independent curator and Curatorial Advisor, Evergreen Brick Works
Moderator:
Janine Marchessault, Curator and Prof. School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, York University

This session features two sequential programs. First, a presentation on the history of the Toronto Sculpture Garden, with a responding discussion about its relevance to today's art ecology. This will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the voices of those leading Toronto’s temporary public art programs now.


Presentation
For its first 35 years, the Toronto Sculpture Garden was the site of innovative, temporary, contemporary sculpture installations. This small park in the downtown core was a testing ground for more than 100 artists to experiment in public space and to address issues of architectural scale, materials and context. Originating when site specificity was in its infancy, the Toronto Sculpture Garden became a laboratory for a whole generation of artists. Many have gone on to make significant permanent art works.

Presenter: Rina Greer
Respondents: Jayne Wilkinson and Yan Wu

Rina Greer is an art consultant, specializing in integrated art and architecture projects since 1974. Concurrently, as Director of the Toronto Sculpture Garden for over 30 years, she organized more than 90 exhibitions showcasing Canadian and international artists. Significant public art projects include: Brookfield Place Calgary; Bay Adelaide Centre – East Tower; North Tower (2022); West Harbour City I, II & III; Ripley’s Aquarium; Trump Hotel (now The Adelaide Hotel); 85 East Liberty Street; 125 Western Battery Road; Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Jayne Wilkinson is an art writer, editor and independent curator. She is currently editor-in-chief of Canadian Art—Canada’s largest contemporary art publication—and has contributed art criticism to a variety of online and print publications, including artists’ books, catalogues, and gallery publications. She holds an MA in Art History and Critical Theory from the University of British Columbia and her research blends interests in surveillance culture, environmental politics, and security and representation, with a focus on contemporary art and photo-based practices.


Panel Discussion
Can permanent projects have a temporary dimension and how might temporary projects bring about permanent change? Can Covid's digital transformations teach us anything about liveness mediated? Is it possible to achieve monumental projects within a short-term time frame? Is “now” the opportunity to change programming and explore the temporary? Are temporary public art projects the best solution in a constantly changing world?

Panelists: Ilana Altman, Tairone Bastien, and Kari Cwynar

Moderator: Janine Marchessault


Ilana Altman is a cultural planner and designer who has a background in art and architecture. In her role as Co-Executive Director at the Bentway she works with the local and artistic community to implement innovative and engaging programming, revealing new possibilities for public space and public art.


Tairone Bastien is an independent curator. He co-curated the inaugural Toronto Biennial of Art in 2019 and is working on the second edition, scheduled for fall 2021. In 2018, he was one of the curators of Nuit Blanche Toronto. From 2011-2016, he worked with MENASA-based artists developing commissioned projects in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Dhaka, Venice, and London. From 2005-2010, he was a curator for the first three editions of Performa in New York. This semester he is an adjunct professor at OCADU.

Kari Cwynar is an independent curator and writer living in Toronto. From 2015-2020, she curated a program of temporary, site-responsive public art projects in Toronto’s Don River Valley through the non-profit Evergreen, where she is now Senior Curatorial Advisor. Cwynar studied Art History at Queen’s University and Carleton University, and participated in the 2012-2013 de Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam. Between 2014 to 2019 she contributed to the editorial team of C Magazine as Assistant Editor, Editor and Editorial Director.

Janine Marchessault is a curator of site-specific exhibitions that engage with history and land use, and Professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, York University. Her most recent project is Archive/Counter-Archive (https://counterarchive.ca/). With a Canada Council New Chapter grant, she co-produced five short experimental Imax films, XLOuter Worlds (2019), that will begin touring in the near future. She is the author of Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies (MIT Press, 2017).



Session 9: The Digital Turn in Public Art

December 8

Featuring:
Marc Boutin, MBAC
Jon Isherwood, Bennington College VT, Digital Stone Project
Ben Rubin, artist, EAR Studio Inc.
Moderator:
Mitchell Chan, Studio F Minus

There has been an increasing interest in the use of urban screens, digital fabrication, and data visualization in recent years. What is the digital as a public space? How does it relate to other public art practices? What are the opportunities, and also the challenges?




Becoming Public Art: Working Models & Case Studies for Art in Public is a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham, in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd.

October 13 to December 8, 2020
Every Tuesday
1:30 PM - 3:00 PM EST
(unless otherwise noted)

Free admission. Registration required.

The City of Markham has one of the most diverse populations in Canada and a fast-developing urban environment. As part of the City’s emerging public art program, Becoming Public Art aims to develop resources for those interested in the practice of contemporary public art.

In a series of virtual sessions open to the public, professionals in the field will present the broad range of perspectives that shape public art making today.

Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.



Session 1: Keynote Presentation by Ken Lum

October 13

Co-presented by Canadian Art


In this special presentation, internationally celebrated artist Ken Lum lays out the key points that public artists, or persons interested in public art, need to consider regarding the role of public art in society today. The keynote considers how public art is called upon to perform as a so-called public good, while at the same time it has become instrumentalized by administrative language. Lum presents these key points as an index of terms essential for every public artist to know. Lum will also speak about this moment as a “monuments moment” brought about by the unprecedented change to our collective existence under a global pandemic, which catalyzes a re-examination of public space and the institutions that govern it.

Ken Lum is an artist born and raised in Vancouver and currently based in Philadelphia. His work has been exhibited at documenta 11, the Venice Biennale, Shanghai Biennale, Carnegie International, Whitney Biennial, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. He has produced public artworks in cities from Rotterdam to Burnaby, including his Monument for East Vancouver (2010) on Clark Avenue in Vancouver. Lum was recently awarded the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts (2020), the Gershon Iskowitz Prize (2020), and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2017. He is co-founder of Monument Lab and is the Marilyn Jordan Taylor Penn Professor in the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania and Chair of the Department of Fine Art.



Session 2: Collaborative Process

October 20

Featuring:
Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins
James Khamsi, Director, DCSK
Stephen Richards, Streamliner Fabrication
Stefan Pilipa, Lead Fabricator, Punchclock Metalworks Inc.
Moderator:

David Turnbull, Director of Public Art & Conservation, Edmonton Arts Council

How to establish a collaborative process between the artist, architect, and fabricator, with a shared view to outcome? What is the role that collaboration plays in facilitating complexity? How to push the boundaries of what is possible from a design, engineering, and art-meaning perspective?


Artists Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins frequently collaborate with architect James Khamsi. Together, they have completed four major public art commissions. The trio will discuss how collaboration, as a working method, informs the design of public projects that feature site responsiveness, integrated practice, and multidisciplinary approaches. They will show how their collective process involves the conception and execution of projects that push the boundaries of what is possible. They will be joined by fabricators Steve Richards and Stefan Pilipa, who will shed light on the challenges of bringing ideas into physical reality.

Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins are an artist duo based in Toronto. Their work is in private collections and public institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. They also produce permanent and temporary public art, with commissions in Canada and the United States. They have lectured at galleries and institutions nationally and internationally, including Concordia University, Montreal; Tulane School of Architecture, New Orleans; and SOMA, Mexico City. They are represented by Cristin Tierney in New York.

James Khamsi designs across a range of scales—from urban master plans to furniture pieces—working in the UK, the US, Canada, and Europe. Prior to founding DCSK, James was the founding principal of FIRM (NY). He has practiced with leading architects, including Foreign Office Architects, where he worked on the London 2012 Olympic Park Masterplan. James received his BArch from Cornell University, and his Masters of Architecture with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Steve Richards and his company Streamliner Fabrication Inc. in Toronto, have established an international reputation in the design and arts community for bringing an extraordinary skill set and craft to public projects. Based on his experience as a designer and artist, Richards’ sensitivity to materials, and the toughness of his approach to problem solving, has set an enviable standard for public art everywhere.

Stefan Pilipa is the President and Lead Fabricator at Punchclock Metalworks in Toronto.

David Turnbull has been with the Edmonton Arts Council since 2009. He holds a Master of Art Conservation degree from Queen’s University, and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The most rewarding part of his job is meeting artists and understanding the work they do, while thinking about how artists can build communities and bring people together.



Session 3: A Civic Role for Artists

October 27

Featuring:
Carolyn Bowen, Manager, Watershed Planning, City of Calgary
Shirley Levy, Chief of Staff, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
Moderator:
Michèle Pearson Clarke, visual artist and Photo Laureate, City of Toronto

Through two case studies, the Watershed+ program hosted by the City of Calgary, and the Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) program, run by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the session will explore: How to integrate the artist into city infrastructure? Can the artist act as an urban problem solver? What is the civic role of the artist?


Watershed+ is an innovative program, with a new model of working within a municipality and a goal of building a lasting and meaningful relationship between citizens and their watershed. By embedding artists within the organization, valuing their processes, and integrating it from the beginning of a project, it allows for the possibility of citizens to connect with nature in a way they haven't before. This collaborative and multidisciplinary approach is not just about creating practical solutions. Rather, it strives to provoke, create intrigue, and reveal the complex systems that integrate a city and its watershed. This presentation will explore Watershed +, the working process, implementation, and examples of remarkable places that encourage sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

Carolyn Bowen has been with The City of Calgary for twenty years and is passionate about public service, public art and the environment. As Manager of Watershed Planning in the Water Utility, Bowen and her team ensure Calgary’s watershed is healthy today into the future, and resilient to floods and drought. Through education and outreach programs they connect citizens to our rivers. Bowen works with the Watershed Plus art program and has a MSc. and a Masters Certificate in Municipal Leadership.

Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) is a municipal residency program that embeds artists in city government to propose and implement creative solutions to pressing civic challenges. Launched in the fall of 2015, PAIR takes its inspiration and its name from the pioneering work of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the first official (unsalaried) artist-in-residence with the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), 1977 – present. PAIR is based on the premise that artists are creative problem-solvers. They are able to create long-term and lasting impact by working collaboratively and in open-ended processes to build community bonds, open channels for two-way dialogue, and reimagine realities to create new possibilities for those who experience and participate in the work.

As Chief of Staff for the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), Shirley Levy is part of the executive team managing the largest municipal funder for arts and culture in the U.S. Since 2012, Shirley has co-created and directs the NYC Public Artists-in-Residence (PAIR) program (2015); leads AREA, the Affordable Real Estate for Artists initiative (2016); created the Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact (2017); and launched City Canvas, (2019). Recently, she is focusing on the agency’s response to COVID-19.

Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist, writer and educator who works in photography, film, video and installation. She is currently the inaugural 2020-2021 artist-in-residence at the University of Toronto’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and the Photo Laureate for the City of Toronto (2019-2022). As part of that role, she sits on the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee for ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021, which will kick-off the City’s new 10-Year Public Art Strategy.



Session 4: Art and Urban Planning

November 3

Featuring:
Ellen Blumenstein, Artistic Director, Imagine the City, Hamburg
Moderator:
Brenda Webster Tweel, Stantec’s Urban Places
Respondents:
Parvathi Nampoothiri, Manager, Urban Design, City of Markham
Richard Fournier, Manager, Parks & Open Space Development, City of Markham

What is the role of culture and art in the development of future cities? What can and should it be? How to embed public art within the process of urban planning? Can it become an integral part of the process? This session will bring you a featured presentation of Hamburg’s experimental cultural program, Imagine the City, followed by a group discussion with Toronto and Markham based urban designers.


Imagine the City is a young and experimental cultural program that develops exemplary new formats at the intersection between art and city planning in the HafenCity of Hamburg. In her presentation, founding director Ellen Blumenstein will introduce one upcoming and two completed projects and discuss how fictitious arrangements are capable of bringing groups of users into contact with one another. Blumenstein sheds light on the workings of the program and explains her vision for art and culture’s role in future cities.

As HafenCity’s first curator, starting in August 2017, Ellen Blumenstein has been drawing up long-term strategies to make cultural events accessible to a broad public. She was chief curator at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin from 2012-2016, producing solo exhibitions by Kader Attia (2013), Lizzie Fitch / Ryan Trecartin (2014), and Renzo Martens (2015), among others, and the thematic exhibitions Under Weapons. Fire & Forget (with Daniel Tyradellis, 2015), and Secret Surface. Where Meaning Materializes (with Catherine Wood, 2016).

Brenda Webster Tweel is a champion for urban renewal with international experience and a focus on process and interdisciplinarity. She integrates technical foundations in landscape architecture, architecture and urban design to build resilient solutions. With over 20 years of experience leading urban designs and master plans, she has an exceptionally strong record with large, complex, multi-stakeholder projects. Webster Tweel gains understanding of community needs through iterative observations, tests the ideas through collaboration, and delivers solutions that are embedded in community governance.

Parvathi Nampoothiri is a planner, urban designer and strategic thinker, and has worked in Canada, UAE, USA and India. With her multi-disciplinary background and leadership skills, Parvathi develops creative, context-sensitive approaches to design while balancing stakeholder needs. She has led interdisciplinary teams that span geographies to deliver master plans, urban revitalization plans and design guidelines. Parvathi strongly believes in creating places and communities that are functional, sustainable and attractive through collaboration, innovation and design excellence.

Richard Fournier is the Manager of Parks & Open Space Development at the City of Markham. He works closely with public and private stakeholders to provide communities with sustainable park systems that facilitate healthy, happy, diverse and equitable outdoor opportunities. Richard is a certified landscape architect with the OALA and CSLA. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMI), and has completed his master’s certificate in Municipal Leadership from the Schulich School of Business.


Session 5: Accessibility

November 10

Featuring:
Paul Amenta, artist and founder of SiTE:LAB
Christopher Smit & Jill Vyn, co-founders of DisArt
Maayan Ziv, CEO AccessNow
Devon Ostrom, curator, artist and advocate
Moderator:
Kevin Buist, independent curator and writer

Who is public art, and public space, for? Who is included in the conversation and experience that public art creates? What does it mean to use the idea of “access” as a creative catalyst? This session features two presentations and a group discussion on the subject of accessibility through the lens of public art projects.


Artist Paul Amenta, creator of SiTE:LAB, and producers and disability advocates Christopher Smit and Jill Vyn from DisArt (all based in Grand Rapids, MI), have been collaborating on award-winning public art projects since 2015’s DisArt Festival. Their work is driven by a commitment to reorganizing the understanding of accessibility, aesthetics, and community making. In this presentation, titled Access as Art, they will discuss their work, the communities they collaborate with, and their future projects.

In their presentation, Maayan Ziv and Devon Ostrom will talk about their experience mapping 100km of art and trails in Toronto, and their future ideas for improving access to the built environment and how it is shaped. Whereas Devon will touch on institutional constraints to greater access, Maayan will focus on the physical and digital realm, along with the benefits of making spaces more accessible to all users.

Paul Amenta is a visual artist working across disciplines, including site-specific installation, architectural intervention, film and video, and large-scale collaborative public projects. Amenta is the founder of SiTE:LAB, and holds an MFA from The School of Visual Arts in New York, and a BFA from Grand Valley State University.

SiTE:LAB is a nomadic all-volunteer artist-led initiative that creates temporary public art projects aimed at facilitating dynamic collaborations between the art, design, education, business, and cultural communities of Grand Rapids.

Christopher Smit and Jill Vyn together co-founded DisArt in 2015, an organization committed to advancing a cultural understanding of Disability. By taking disability out of the space of speculation, mystery, or fear, and placing it in an historical and aesthetic context, DisArt amplifies the voice, visibility, and value of the Disabled community. Through public speaking, publishing, cutting-edge programming, and organizational consulting, Christopher Smit, PhD (University of Iowa), and Jill Vyn, MSW (University of Michigan) have become respected voices throughout the world.

DisArt is a production company and arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a Disabled culture. DisArt believes that expressions of a Disabled cultural identity can transform society from awareness to understanding to belonging, creating a society that enjoys the full and equitable participation of all Disabled people.

Maayan Ziv is an activist, photographer and entrepreneur based in Toronto. From a young age, Maayan challenged norms to increase awareness of disability issues and improve accessibility. Maayan founded and leads the social enterprise, AccessNow, and holds an MA in Digital Media from Ryerson University. She has received the City of Toronto Access Award and the David C. Onley Leadership in Accessibility Award in recognition of her commitment to improving the lives of people of all abilities.

AccessNow is a grassroots social start-up. Our mission is to share accessibility information around the world by mapping as many places as we possibly can—and we invite you to help us! A worldwide community, passionate about change, together we can empower each other to have access now.

Devon Ostrom is an artist and graduate of the London School of Economics. Works include a mural/research project in a maximum security prison and the co-creation of a billboard tax that has raised over $89m for art in Toronto. Along with an MPA (w. distinction in Regulatory Analysis) Devon holds an MA in Curating and is certified in HR and NPO Management. Currently, Devon teaches Cultural Policy and is a Park People Fellow.

Kevin Buist is an independent curator, writer and former Artistic Director of ArtPrize, where he oversaw artists, operations, and design. He holds a MA in Visual and Critical Studies from Kendall College of Art and Design. His writing has been featured in numerous print and online publications, including the Art:21 Blog, where he was a Blogger in Residence, as well as MNartists.org, Michigan Quarterly Review, and kevinbuist.com/blog.


Session 6: Placemaking and Public Art

November 17

Featuring:
Native Art Department International (Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan)
Mary Anne Barkhouse, artist
Moderator:
Tania Willard, artist, curator, Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan

How do we address indigeneity in the process of placemaking? How do we bring the conversation about land rights into public art practice through an indigenous perspective? How do we continue this conversation in response to the moment's social justice movement? This session features two presentations and a group discussion that explore land rights and public art practice considered in the light of these questions. The session is moderated by Tania Willard.

Native Art Department International is the collaborative long-term project of Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan. It focuses on communications platforms and art-world systems of support, while at the same time functioning as an emancipation from essentialism and identity-based artwork. It seeks to circumvent easy categorization by comprising curated exhibitions, video screenings, panel talks, collective art making, and an online presence; however, all activities contain an undercurrent of positive progress through cooperation and non-competition.

When Maria and Jason created Native Art Department International in 2016, neither of them could have predicted the dramatic course of global events that would follow. We are now in an art world that reflects the broader debates regarding who is allowed to have presence and who is not, who is allowed to have shared experiences and who is not. In this context, the concerns of artists invested in creating spaces for being, seeing, speaking, and listening is of urgent importance. They will talk about their proposed Double Gazebo project (commissioned to be unveiled at the original, in-person iteration of Becoming Public Art) as a structure created to invite public involvement, the interruption of this project, and its eventual reintroduction into a changed public environment.

Mary Anne Barkhouse has strong ties to both coasts as her mother is from the Nimpkish band, Kwakiutl First Nation of Alert Bay, BC, and her father is of German and British descent from Nova Scotia. A descendant of a long line of internationally recognized artists, including Ellen Neel, Mungo Martin and Charlie James, she graduated with Honours from the Ontario College of Art and has exhibited widely in Canada and the United States. Her work is in major collections across Canada.

Response to landscape is at the core of Mary Anne Barkhouse’s work. Engaging with multiple layers of history and disrupting the anthropocentric gaze, her installations offer vignettes through which we can view the environments that gave rise to indigenous cultures. While depiction of the “human” is not included in her sculptures, it is inferred through the interpretation of the species she portrays and their placement… and gives rise to questions surrounding occupation, land, authority and possible futures.

Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation and settler heritage, works within the shifting ideas around contemporary and traditional, often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures. Willard’s curatorial work includes the touring exhibition, Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (2012-2014), co-curated with Kathleen Ritter. In 2016 Willard received the Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art from the Hanatyshyn Foundation as well as a City of Vancouver Book Award for the catalogue for the exhibition Unceded Territories: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. Willard's ongoing collaborative project BUSH gallery, is a conceptual land-based gallery grounded in Indigenous knowledges. Willard is an Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan in Syilx territories and her current research intersects with land-based art practices.


Session 7: Site-Specificity and Public Art

November 24

Featuring:
Maggie Groat, artist
Paul Wong, artist
Randy Niessen, Public Art Program, City of Calgary
Moderator:
Annie Wong, artist

Featuring three presentations and a group discussion, this session asks the questions: What does site-specificity mean if we think about “site” as an ever-changing condition? Urban sites are in flux, with changing geographies and demographics, how can this be addressed in public art practice? How to cultivate conversations about the site’s past, present, and future?


Through strategic mobilization of collage methodologies and alternative forms of research, Maggie Groat is interested in the formulation of site-responsive works that call attention to deep time, shifting territory, locational identities and possible futures. Focusing on a selection of recent projects, including a look at The Lake, (Art Metropole, Toronto, 2014), Deep Time, Portals, Particles and Pulls, (Armoury Street, Toronto, 2019), and STSTS (Western Front, Vancouver, 2017-2020), Groat will discuss approaches and considerations around what it means for her to engage site-specifically, and what she has learned from her engagements with place and time.


Paul Wong’s presentation will focus on a recent series of multidisciplinary public art projects in Vancouver’s Chinatown. They will include 身在唐人街 / OCCUPYING CHINATOWN that featured engagements created during a year-long artist residency at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Wong’s Chinatown studio, from March 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019. prideinchinatown.com is now an annual festival celebrating pan-Asian LGBTQ2 art and culture of which Wong is the Artistic Director. He currently has in development the Sounds of Chinatown, a sound installation, and the Occupying Chinatown book, which will be released in 2021. This illustrated talk will be live from Wong’s studio in the heart of Chinatown.


Randy Niessen’s talk focuses on Calgary’s Chinatown, which is currently at a crossroads. The neighborhood is facing increasing pressure from developers wanting to access the area’s valuable location while its community is advocating to preserve its distinct and important cultural identity. This tension has been a catalyst for community stakeholders and The City of Calgary to work together on significant planning documents that will aim to shape the future of the area. Through this, the Calgary Chinatown Artist Residency was created, an opportunity that embeds artists into the community to research the rich history, culture and built environment of Calgary Chinatown and its current sociopolitical context. Niessen will shed light on the process of this residency—how it not only allows the artists to create new works in response to Calgary Chinatown, but also to influence the civic planning documents underway.


Maggie Groat utilizes a range of media to interrogate methodologies of collage and salvage practices. Informed by her Skarú:ręʔ and Settler backgrounds, her role as a mother, and the impacts of the Anthropocene, her current research surrounds site-responsiveness, shifting territories, decolonial ways-of-being, Indigenous Futurisms, gardens, slowness, margins, and the transformative potentials of found and ritual materials. She is a Visual Studies Lecturer at the University of Toronto and lives on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Chonnonton, and Anishinaabeg.


Paul Wong is a media-maestro making art for site-specific spaces and screens of all sizes. With a career spanning four decades, he is an award-winning artist and curator who is known for pioneering early visual and media art in Canada, founding several artist-run groups, (VIVO Media Art Centre, On Main/On The Cutting Edge Production Society, leading public arts policy, and organizing events, festivals, conferences and public interventions since the 1970s.


Randy Niessen holds a BFA from Alberta University of the Arts and is currently pursuing a dual MA in Arts Management with an MFA degree from Claremont Graduate University. He has experience working with artist-run centres, festivals and municipal art programs, and currently works at The City of Calgary as a Public Art Coordinator. Randy has been involved in many acclaimed public art initiatives including WATERSHED+ and the Calgary Chinatown Artist Residency.


Annie Wong is a writer and multidisciplinary artist working in performance and installation. Conceptually diverse, her practice explores the intersections between the political and poetic in everyday life. Wong has presented across North America and has held residencies with the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Power Plant, and the Varley Art Gallery of Markham. Her recent literary works in poetry, art writing, and non-fiction can be found in The Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art; C Magazine; Canadian Art; and MICE Magazine.



Session 8: Temporary Programming

December 1

Featuring:
Rina Greer, public art consultant
Jayne Wilkinson, Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Art, with Yan Wu, Markham Public Art
Ilana Altman, Co-Executive Director, The Bentway
Tairone Bastien, Curator, Toronto Biennial of Art
Kari Cwynar, independent curator and Curatorial Advisor, Evergreen Brick Works
Moderator:
Janine Marchessault, Curator and Prof. School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, York University

This session features two sequential programs. First, a presentation on the history of the Toronto Sculpture Garden, with a responding discussion about its relevance to today's art ecology. This will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the voices of those leading Toronto’s temporary public art programs now.


Presentation
For its first 35 years, the Toronto Sculpture Garden was the site of innovative, temporary, contemporary sculpture installations. This small park in the downtown core was a testing ground for more than 100 artists to experiment in public space and to address issues of architectural scale, materials and context. Originating when site specificity was in its infancy, the Toronto Sculpture Garden became a laboratory for a whole generation of artists. Many have gone on to make significant permanent art works.

Presenter: Rina Greer
Respondents: Jayne Wilkinson and Yan Wu

Rina Greer is an art consultant, specializing in integrated art and architecture projects since 1974. Concurrently, as Director of the Toronto Sculpture Garden for over 30 years, she organized more than 90 exhibitions showcasing Canadian and international artists. Significant public art projects include: Brookfield Place Calgary; Bay Adelaide Centre – East Tower; North Tower (2022); West Harbour City I, II & III; Ripley’s Aquarium; Trump Hotel (now The Adelaide Hotel); 85 East Liberty Street; 125 Western Battery Road; Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Jayne Wilkinson is an art writer, editor and independent curator. She is currently editor-in-chief of Canadian Art—Canada’s largest contemporary art publication—and has contributed art criticism to a variety of online and print publications, including artists’ books, catalogues, and gallery publications. She holds an MA in Art History and Critical Theory from the University of British Columbia and her research blends interests in surveillance culture, environmental politics, and security and representation, with a focus on contemporary art and photo-based practices.


Panel Discussion
Can permanent projects have a temporary dimension and how might temporary projects bring about permanent change? Can Covid's digital transformations teach us anything about liveness mediated? Is it possible to achieve monumental projects within a short-term time frame? Is “now” the opportunity to change programming and explore the temporary? Are temporary public art projects the best solution in a constantly changing world?

Panelists: Ilana Altman, Tairone Bastien, and Kari Cwynar

Moderator: Janine Marchessault


Ilana Altman is a cultural planner and designer who has a background in art and architecture. In her role as Co-Executive Director at the Bentway she works with the local and artistic community to implement innovative and engaging programming, revealing new possibilities for public space and public art.


Tairone Bastien is an independent curator. He co-curated the inaugural Toronto Biennial of Art in 2019 and is working on the second edition, scheduled for fall 2021. In 2018, he was one of the curators of Nuit Blanche Toronto. From 2011-2016, he worked with MENASA-based artists developing commissioned projects in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Dhaka, Venice, and London. From 2005-2010, he was a curator for the first three editions of Performa in New York. This semester he is an adjunct professor at OCADU.

Kari Cwynar is an independent curator and writer living in Toronto. From 2015-2020, she curated a program of temporary, site-responsive public art projects in Toronto’s Don River Valley through the non-profit Evergreen, where she is now Senior Curatorial Advisor. Cwynar studied Art History at Queen’s University and Carleton University, and participated in the 2012-2013 de Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam. Between 2014 to 2019 she contributed to the editorial team of C Magazine as Assistant Editor, Editor and Editorial Director.

Janine Marchessault is a curator of site-specific exhibitions that engage with history and land use, and Professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, York University. Her most recent project is Archive/Counter-Archive (https://counterarchive.ca/). With a Canada Council New Chapter grant, she co-produced five short experimental Imax films, XLOuter Worlds (2019), that will begin touring in the near future. She is the author of Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies (MIT Press, 2017).



Session 9: The Digital Turn in Public Art

December 8

Featuring:
Marc Boutin, MBAC
Jon Isherwood, Bennington College VT, Digital Stone Project
Ben Rubin, artist, EAR Studio Inc.
Moderator:
Mitchell Chan, Studio F Minus

There has been an increasing interest in the use of urban screens, digital fabrication, and data visualization in recent years. What is the digital as a public space? How does it relate to other public art practices? What are the opportunities, and also the challenges?




  • Public Art on Campus (Part 3) - A Conversation with Barbara Fischer

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    16 Nov 2020
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    In this series of interviews, Markham Public Art looks at the topic of public art on campus. What kind of a public does an artwork create or speak to in this context? How does it differ from works made for other parts of the public sphere? In these conversations, Yan Wu, Public Art Curator for the City of Markham, and art writer Rosemary Heather speak with four curators about the work they do in the context of university life. Emelie Chhangur and Lisa Myers talk about their work with Tania Williard on her commission for York University’s Glendon Campus; Barbara Cole speaks about being the Curator of Outdoor Art at the University of British Columbia’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, a rare position in the university context in Canada; and Barbara Fischer delves into her role as the Executive Director and Chief Curator at the University of Toronto’s Art Museum. Universities are highly complex institutions that serve multiple publics. Despite being dedicated to the production of knowledge, these conversations show how contemporary art finds ways to challenge and invigorate the production of the public sphere on campus.

    Barbara Fischer is the Executive Director/Chief Curator of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and the University of Toronto Art Centre as well as an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream and the Director of the Master of Visual Studies program in Curatorial Studies at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.


    Rosemary Heather: We are having this conversation with you today to ask these interesting questions: What is public art on campus, as opposed to elsewhere? What's the difference in the kind of public sphere that it constitutes? Maybe you could just start with a quick overview of UofT’s campus collection, its history, policies, who manages it, and its current focus?

    Barbara Fischer: It's a big question. UofT is a huge apparatus: 80,000 students and three campuses. Across North America, university galleries came about because universities were collecting, in all kinds of ways, manners, and shapes, often with very eclectic results. UofT has an art collection that goes back right to the university’s beginnings. Alumni would give a piece as a donation; a faculty would commission something in honour of the opening of the building or faculty; alumni passed away and the estate would give works; and these things kept accumulating. In effect, the University is full of collections everywhere. Here and there and everywhere. Not all part of the official UofT Art collection. Faculties and colleges have their own: Victoria College; Massey College; etc. And then there are the libraries’ collections; the Medical Faculty collection, and so on. Eventually, it was clear that somebody had to take care of these things—and art works are specific objects of care. They're not like books. They're not like lawns. They're not like trees. So then you have curators—sometimes part-time, then becoming full-time. Once you have the curator, you start to have the need for policy, because the curator can’t do everything or accumulate anything; and then you have to formalize the spaces, galleries and proper vaults, to take care of the collection. For instance, Hart House, which is a student-centered cultural centre at the University of Toronto, started an art collection in the early 20th century to serve its many spaces. With time, as the need arose to build a museum standard space to be able to properly care for works that had been there for nearly a century and had become ever more valuable—they were also in demand for exhibitions around the world, so someone had to organize and keep track of their whereabouts. Anyway, collections started in this very eclectic way and it still is a very eclectic assembly of things that belong to different faculties and so on. UofT doesn’t have a unified approach.

    The Art Museum is responsible for four specific collections—you can see them on the website. To add into these specific collections, an art work has to go through our Acquisitions Committee and layered approval process. Meanwhile, others can continue to bring works into their offices and so on and those would not come under the purview of the Art Museum. That is the case with the outdoor works, as well. Faculties may commission a piece, or someone donates a work and it doesn't go through acquisitions. I'm being very logistically oriented here, but that’s part of the story.

    I should also say that the history of the Hart House collection is exceptional in many ways. The building was gifted to UofT by Vincent Massey. From the beginning it was the intention was to have art on display in the House, which is a kind of "art in public space" program because the space is open to students and to visitors and so on. The House also allocated financial resources to purchase works, with the idea that they would function in place-making ways. Art to be there for the visitor created an environment or a stimulating space of sorts. Active purchasing made it a very different collection. There was a capacity to actually invest in and develop its direction, rather than accumulating passively—which is, by the way, how most collections are assembled.


    RH: Right, through donations.

    BF: Exactly, and then become manifestations of class interests.


    Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero, waabidiziiyan doopwining (to see yourself at the table), 2019. The Hart House Centennial Art Commission. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.


    RH: Moving on from the overview, perhaps you could talk about the commissioning process, specifically about the Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero piece?

    BF: Yes, it comes directly out of the Hart House story. The Art Museum and Hart House continue to allocate money for purchases—though it's not a big budget. When I arrived at the JMB (Justina M. Barnicke Gallery)...


    RH: What year was that, Barbara?

    BF: I started at the JMB in 2005, and then in the new configuration of UTAC (University of Toronto Art Centre) and the JMB federating happened in 2014*. Arriving at Hart house, the collection was very much driven by its history of class interests and a certain nationalist and colonial settler idea of art. It was focused on painting. It had deep roots in the Group of Seven and their circle of advocates, many of whom were connected with UofT, Hart House, the Arts and Letters Club, the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada, all of that (the racialized underpinnings of which was the subject of Deanna Bowen’s really important exhibition). It was also almost exclusively centered on painting as the idea of art—which still today if you ask someone to think of art, they think of painting rather than anything else. That was the focus of the collection under my predecessor. So I decided we really needed to start first of all to look into a more expansive range of work and artistic concerns, including photo-based works considering principles of meaning-making through reproduction, but also to really move to include works that had a different way of speaking in public spaces. That is, artists who were coming with a different consciousness about what the idea of art was to space: Will Kwan’s piece “Flame Test”, a series of flags apparently set ablaze by various protests around the world; in other words, looking at the contestation of nationhood and nationalism, globally, is one of the works we got in the very beginning, as well as Michael Fernandes’ participatory conceptual work Room of Fears. More recently, we were able to acquire some of Jalani Morgan's photographic works documenting events in the Toronto history of Black Lives Matter, and Erika DeFreitas’ embroidery—just really expanding the idea of how art works in this public space that Hart House is, reorienting or shifting what the politics of art in public spaces might be. When the Centenary of Hart House came up, 1919 to 2019, shortly after the release of the TRC’s (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) call to action, including to cultural institutions, from an indigenous perspective, it was a critical opportunity for the House to address its history, but also to look forward, and to insert an Indigenous voice, thinking about that. It's not even really a question. It was more than time to address the place, where we were, where this house is, what the legacy was of that, of what settling in this particular place had meant. Also, how to look differently forward; and so we thought of the Great Hall because that's such a symbolic place and is often considered the ceremonial centre of the University. There are graduation ceremonies, big inaugurations, Chancellor and Presidential speeches are held at Hart House in the Great Hall, so it's really a very important centre, and there was that one wall that was empty. The North wall. White and open—this amazing potential space, and all along the side are portraits of the wardens, the history of the wardens of the house. It’s a portrait gallery in the traditional sense. It has all of the trimmings, if you will, of the way in which aristocratic spaces were constructed, or other white, Western ceremonial spaces were constructed, by having the portraits of historical figures aligned on a wall to tell you about the history of a place. So it was really really important to think about that space. The centenary project is really one of the most important art projects to have been mobilized at Hart House in terms of art and what art might be able to do in this public space—which it is, it's shared by people from within the University, but also so many others. I don't make a distinction between outside and inside for the idea of “public”. For me, that doesn't make sense; especially not in the University. Many multiple publics come through the spaces inside and outside and are equally considered, I think, publics in the multiple sense. From the beginning, it was a very intensely consulted commission. A lot of conversations with Indigenous Elders, faculty, and administration—from engineering all the way to VP Students. Multiple constituents were involved in every part of the process, and we appointed an all-Indigenous jury. They were the ones who recommended names of possible artists who they felt could address the situation. Who had the experience in making projects of a certain scale and place and sensitivity and sensibility. We also invited others to submit names to that list and then the jury made a short list. Each of the nine shortlisted artists were commissioned to make a proposal, which was then exhibited. This became a way of talking through how individual artist projects resonated, considering potential limitations and strengths. It was a very interesting process because the exhibition was up for, I think, something like six weeks. Then the jury met and decided on the final work and then there was another process of review considering the resonance or connotations of the work. Even though there were five people on the jury, they would not necessarily see all the nuances that might be involved and it was too critical of a space and occasion to not know as much as possible about what a given proposition entailed, how it would speak, how it might act in that space. In the end, it was clear that Rebecca and Osvaldo's work, Waabidiziiyan doopwining (To see oneself at the table) was the right work, and just struck the right questions about past and future. Central to it is the role of the mirror—as something that can reflect what has been or was, or is, but also maybe the potentiality of that space: who else might be at the table, or who was not yet conceived to be at the table. So it just offered this big opening of ways of thinking and place-making in this particular space that, I think, everyone felt was really strong, a strong gesture. It's meant to be a permanent piece. It relates of course to the portrait—to see yourself at the table is an idea of portraiture, and there are still the portraits in this portrait gallery and in some ways it's very site-specific. As for Rebecca and Osvaldo, neither of them really spoke about the portraits that are there, the other paintings that are in that space. I think I've always been someone who argued against the tradition of portrait galleries at the University, for many many multiple thousands of reasons. For some reason in this instance, I am thinking that there is something very site-specific and disruptive and ingeniously questioning in Osvaldo and Rebecca’s work, about what else there is in this room and how it speaks, how their work speaks vis a vis the other works that are in the space. There is a question in there that is very productive. I think in the long run I'm looking at this place and believe that we need to further the conversation about the role of the portrait gallery. I believe that some other thinking has to be mobilized.

    [* In 2014, the University of Toronto’s two major art venues—the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and the University of Toronto Art Centre—were combined to create the Art Museum at the University of Toronto.]


    Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero, waabidiziiyan doopwining (to see yourself at the table), 2019. The Hart House Centennial Art Commission. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.


    RH: Is your thinking analogous to the symbolic removal of statues?

    BF: I would think definitely, but maybe more nuanced. I think Osvaldo and Rebecca’s piece actually asks the question a bit differently. It doesn't talk about removal, it talks about presence and absence, which I think is a more nuanced approach to this question. It opens it up as the future horizon, in a way, of who is not there yet in this space and who has been excluded for centuries, from before the space even existed, through colonization, and all of that. I would say that there is a power in negotiating a removal. It’s a powerful and interesting—and needed—question. Like defunding the police. I would not call for the destruction of these particular portraits—though I am for strategic removal. We may consider moving them into a space where they are in different dialogue with something else that can talk about this question: what is visualized, what's made visible, what is permanently visible, what's tangentially visible, what's excluded from visibility? What/who is a part of, speaking in the symbolic, visual field of this place? Which the University has to ask, and must ask really, in terms of seeing place as an opportunity for other visibilities, for a change of the visual field. It's a matter of the politics of the visual field really, the physical place and visual field as the matrix, as the ideological matrix in which we function, which reproduces certain things by virtue of a permanence. To not reproduce this idea of permanence and evoke other possibilities, I think, is so critical. Osvaldo and Rebecca’s work does that so brilliantly because it doesn't substitute a presence per se by virtue of the mirror. I think the dynamics of what is art in public space, that's the question, period. What is there long or short, and what remains and what doesn't remain, what's permanent, what is ephemeral, and what kind of commitments will be made to what is there for long and what's there for short. As a culture, as a place to which many belong, to which many don't have access in the same equal ways, that's really the question of art in public space. Art can contribute in really unique ways, because it speaks to it, it is reflective of that situation and condition in a way that architecture often isn’t, because it asserts itself as a presence that’s immobile and that is a monumental structure of our public space. Architecture is the structuring of our public space, whereas art can actually talk about it and take it as a subject and contest it and contend with it and warp it and détourn it, and all of that.


    Yan Wu: I think it's an important conversation because it's about the infrastructure and how you have to go out and make a space for art, and what you have to do to make that happen. We also spoke with Emelie Chhangur and Lisa Myers and they did a beautiful project on the Glendon Campus at YorkU. I'm curious about how everybody works and how things happen and if there is a model we can learn from and reapply it elsewhere. Something I learned from Emelie and Lisa is how to open up the process of art making and it is part of their curatorial strength that through the process they develop a sense of ownership and sense of belonging, and then build a community and then community becomes part of the maintenance plan of the work. Because usually we have the annual maintenance work— the bronze has to be polished and waxed every year—but now this idea of maintenance has shifted. So how do we develop policies that will encourage and ensure artworks like Rebecca's can happen?

    BF: Yeah that's a really good question. What your example brings out is a deep questioning of the current understanding of public art, which often is understood to be a permanent fixed thing in the visual field that needs to be, regardless of its value and story, needs to be treated like a collected work, with all the maintenance and all the protocols and all of that, which is a certain idea of art and a very particular kind of art; and whether to shift into the temporary only is a question. I mean I think there are two things: one is the UofT campus is already a visual field right now with permanent work, and just to be frank, I think every single outdoor work is by a male artist and most are portraits of men. So what is the commitment that we indicate with that, as a campus and as a space, and what permanence does that have? What it provides is a question: do all the other voices in the rupture with the permanent become ephemeral only, the voices that come and go, and is legacy of this a kind of permanent that will be passed on and live after all of the ephemeral voices have come and gone? That cannot be, is really not an option! We have been approached and asked: why are there no other type of portraits? It’s not just the artists but also that the portraits are pretty much exclusively of white folk. It’s this old problem that is the problem of public art in cities everywhere, in Europe and North America, not everywhere but in the western-colonial context. People are asking: why are there no portraits of black folk? Why are we not there, literally and permanently also to be recognized? Then the question becomes: what does the permanent and the ephemeral do to each other, and how do we renegotiate that towards a different understanding of how art works. Ideally, there needs to be some strategic thinking about invoking permanence at this time—and the calls for action are definitely in that direction, I would say. In terms of my interest on going, what interests me a lot about the campus is that it is a space, a public space where a multitude of voices are possible, and new voices and new voice making is possible and interdisciplinarity is possible, and how to engage that and activate that as part of the visual field, as part of the conversations that can be had, I think that is sort of the future possibility. I think that's where our next question really lies. I don't know, what do you think, in terms of this permanence?


    YW: My understanding is on the practical side. My idea of permanence is tied to budget size. It’s become clear to me that with public art on campus as a capital project on the university level, or a public art project as museum public programming, ultimately it's a different level of funding support and budget size. Then because of the size of the budget, there is a tendency to ask for the work to have permanency to make it worthwhile—it's an understanding of the value. Process-based work, for example, has less tangible materiality, but the impact it creates can be more permeating and has a larger audience and a larger concrete impact on the individuals that constitute the community, but it is considered less important because it's not tangible. The professional labour tends to be less recognized as value and all the impact on the community is hard to quantify as value. I think this idea of permanence is really tied to ideas of where the value lies.

    BF: Yes. It's odd how un-interdisciplinary we are when you think about performance and music, and all of those are "intangible", they’re performance, they’re living moments, and we are completely accustomed and comfortable in that zone of intangibility; but when it comes to visual art, we have it as a sort of permanent marker, as a marker of history, as imbued with the visual image of history that came up in those monument destruction comments: “It is our history, so we have to leave it because it is a visible marker of our history.” I think there is something that is also part of that question, the Western idea—and I think a lot of artists might be upset with that—but the Western idea of a permanence around art, as held in a collection, is very enshrined in the constitution of ideal culture, really. We have a culture—James Clifford pointed out how possessive that terminology actually is in Western culture. We “have culture”, culture is having something. It's a physical thing that we have. Considering Robert Smithson’s entropic project does art have to live past its lifetime? Can art live and and expire, I mean in the sense of its last breath, by being given to the elements it is in? There are certain strange contradictions that befall things that have to be permanent. I'm thinking also, is deliberately disrupted and queried in performance work, like Diane Borsato’s work where she retrieved the tea set from the collection, or in so many aspects and potential of repatriation, the re-introduction of an object into a living context.


    YW: To use it is to decrease its value.

    BF: That’s right. We have to protect things at all costs to be permanent, even if they weren't even meant to be permanent. It's a very specific construct, so I find that fascinating. On the other hand, when we work with the permanent collection and have the ability to look back at historical things that are from outside of our time and bring them back to see them in the present, they are of course not the same as what they were then, or they become richer or more complex or we see them differently because of the present, or the present already produces a change to what a permanence might be; it is already not what it was, always.


    RH: The best example of that is the reception to the statues that people see as symbols of colonial power and tear them down. The context changed.

    BF: That’s right. A different lens makes them into something different, literally, palpably different. In terms of artworks that do reside in a collection that are not necessarily permanent in the sense of “marking physical space permanently”, they are an archive, if you will, of potential meanings that can be invoked also to have other meanings, with whom the living can have a dialogue that invokes something new. So with the Art Museum, we still collect with that intention of having works in the collection that can be activated and become new reasons or produce prompts to have a new conversation with. But, I think in terms of public space and permanence in public space, it's really fraught.


    YW: The whole notion of permanence is questionable. The very definition of it is questionable. Whether it is in administrative terms, materiality terms, or in ideological terms. The idea of permanence as a cultural representation also requires a certain level of the unified voice and unified view, and then that is the problem right, because it's a depiction of a certain thinking.

    BF: It fixes itself in the visual field to be there and is of course a part of reproducing that sphere, in a certain way. And currently, we are questioning on all fronts what is being "reproduced" there.


    RH: Yes, exactly. Especially in the university context.

    BF: I think I'm maybe at that point, where there could be a monument and a counter monument.


    RH: That’s a nice idea.

    BF: To invoke history but in a counter-narrative way that points out the limits of history and its supposed "permanence"; thinking about signs to un-permanentalize them by détourning, estranging, disrupting their truths.


    YW: You kill the permanence that was injected at the moment by juxtaposition with the present context. In Chinese, we’d say it's another way of incarnation. It’s a temporary permanence that’s constantly being renewed.

    BF: And it shows you that meaning is inherently impermanent, that inside of whatever we thought of as permanent there's always the possibility of its demise, in a negative way, but also maybe reincarnation, or thinking new—the ability of thinking differently is so critical to thinking the visual field.


    RH: I like the idea, Barbara, of a counter work because I really am against destroying artworks, in general. I understand the drive to remove, but I don't know about erasure, because I get the value of historical works. That idea, “all art is contemporary” is very powerful to me.

    BF: It's the question of what we are leaving “in permanence” and what isn't there, or would potentially never be there as well, though; after all the ephemeral is gone do you still have all the old permanent monuments in place? countering the arguments in space, in public space, can be really productive.


    YW: Yes, the public and the counterpublic. We need to keep up with the times and renew the build, renew everything. Maybe it's not a good analogy but some of the sculptures that use old style painting and the painting technology evolves over the years, so when the work needs to be restored, they restore it with the current technology for painting. The same idea for all cultural presentations. It needs a state of the art coat of paint.


    Interview conducted by Yan Wu and Rosemary Heather on November 5, 2020 as part of Markham Public Art’s Becoming Public Art: Working Models and Case Studies for Art in Public, a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd. Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.


  • Public Art on Campus (Part 2) - A Conversation with Barbara Cole

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    16 Nov 2020
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    In this series of interviews, Markham Public Art looks at the topic of public art on campus. What kind of a public does an artwork create or speak to in this context? How does it differ from works made for other parts of the public sphere? In these conversations, Yan Wu, Public Art Curator for the City of Markham, and art writer Rosemary Heather speak with four curators about the work they do in the context of university life. Emelie Chhangur and Lisa Myers talk about their work with Tania Williard on her commission for York University’s Glendon Campus; Barbara Cole speaks about being the Curator of Outdoor Art at the University of British Columbia’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, a rare position in the university context in Canada; and Barbara Fischer delves into her role as the Executive Director and Chief Curator at the University of Toronto’s Art Museum. Universities are highly complex institutions that serve multiple publics. Despite being dedicated to the production of knowledge, these conversations show how contemporary art finds ways to challenge and invigorate the production of the public sphere on campus.

    Barbara Cole is the founder and principal of Cole Projects. She is an artist, curator, educator and curatorial consultant in public art. In 2017, she was appointed Curator of Outdoor Art at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia.


    Rosemary Heather: Could you give us a quick overview of the campus collection at UBC, its history, policies, who manages it, and its current focus? We realize it's a big question, but please feel free to answer it whichever way you feel comfortable.

    Barbara Cole: The first artwork in the collection was commissioned in 1925, followed by a donated work in the late 40s. There were quite a few commissions and donations in the 50s and 60s, two works in the 70s, nothing in the 80s, and one donation in the 90s. The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery moved into a new purpose-built building in 1995 and it was after that that the Gallery became more involved in overseeing and managing the outdoor art collection. In the decades leading up to the 2000s, I think it’s safe to say the criteria for accepting works into the collection wasn’t as consistent or defined as it is now. In the 2000s, the University developed a Public Art Strategy, the role of the University Art Committee was more fully defined, and the Curator of Outdoor Art position was created. This position was pretty new when I came into it in April of 2017, and I’d have to say that even now, I’m still getting familiar with the collection and the workings of the University. I work closely with the Belkin Gallery team, but also with folks in Campus and Community Planning and Building Operations. I also work with a subcommittee of the University Art Committee that’s focussed on art in public space. The UAC deals with all acquisitions, outdoor art among them. I bring some of the more logistical issues to the subcommittee, ask for their endorsement and then bring forward requests for recommendation to the full UAC. When the Belkin curatorial team wants to purchase or commission an artwork, we present to the UAC and they in turn make a recommendation to the Provost. That's how the process unfolds. There are only 25 works in the formal outdoor art collection, although there are many other works on campus, that have come to be there in a whole variety of ways that fall outside my purview. There are some works that have enormous cultural significance to the campus community, but they aren't necessarily considered to be part of the collection. So, to offer a kind of summary of all of that, I’d say, from 2000 onwards, the Belkin took on a much more active role in the outdoor art collection, perhaps more in line with, and a subset of, the gallery’s overall collection—and you'll see a real shift in the kinds of artworks that were acquired or commissioned from that point forward.


    RH: That’s interesting that there is a specific role for the outdoor collection. I don't think that's always the case. What was happening before 2000?

    BC: There were different versions of the University Art Committee in previous decades, but in the early 2000s it was broadened to include faculty, students and external art professional members. One of the first artworks the Belkin became involved with was Rodney Graham’s Millennial Time Machine.


    RH: So that means it's a much more intentional and conscious thought given to the collection, rather than it being a random series of donations or commissions. Can you say a little bit about that? Is there kind of a theme or overarching goals? You mentioned Rodney Graham. That's a very prominent Vancouver artist. Would that be part of the mission, to collect artists of that stature who come from the city?

    BC: Well, I can only speak for now in terms of what the curatorial direction is. And certainly, what we're trying to do is address the context of the university as a site of experimentation, exploration and research—to take advantage of that as a context and as a situation for an artist to be immersed within. So, in terms of commissions, we're looking first for an artist who is interested in developing an idea over time. In the outdoor art program, we can accept a donation, we can purchase a work, or we can commission. I'm talking about a commission here. While there are already completed artworks that might come our way that need to be sited, I’m most interested right now in artists who want to work collaboratively, across disciplines, to develop a project over time that is specific to UBC. So, the important focus is on research. And I think in general, a lot of folks aren’t aware to what degree research figures in so many artists' practices. How do we make that research public?


    RH: So that's working within the university as an expanded field for art practice, but specifically with an emphasis on the campus, the outdoor campus itself.

    BC: Yeah, it fits within the trajectory of public art, in that it's really the spaces between the buildings that we value as citizens—we think of that space as a democratic space and a space that should be protected at all costs. There is a lot of learning to be done between the buildings, and on campus we can take those spaces and make them active.


    RH: Would you say that's also a characteristic of Vancouver? That maybe the urban context is so—I don't want to say encroached upon—but it has such a strong component of the wilderness or nature. And there's a heightened awareness of that in Vancouver, that maybe doesn't exist in Toronto in the same way?

    BC: I don't know, perhaps. As an important aspect of this place of Vancouver, I want to acknowledge that UBC is on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam. As the curator of the outdoor collection, it’s really important to me that the gallery has made a commitment to building an ongoing relationship with Musqueam and through their guidance, furthering our understanding of this land and what it means to live and work here. So, in terms of Vancouver and public art, I’m seeing a growing awareness of territories, land, and histories from perspectives that extend beyond the settler lens.


    Yan Wu: It’s interesting to hear you say that outdoor space on campus is a learning space, how the outdoor collection plays a teaching role, and how it can become the platform and vehicle for research. Because one main goal of the summit and this interview series is to collect working models, to learn how things are being done, how interesting projects are achieved.

    BC: I think as you know, since you're involved in public art, every project is completely different. Right? There's no overall formula. This has proven true for me with the work I’ve done through Other Sights for Artists Projects as part of a collective working in public space, as well as through my work as a public art consultant for many years through Cole Projects. I mean, the thing about public art is that you can learn lessons, but they're seldom lessons you can apply to the next one. Each situation and context is unique and the lessons aren’t really transferable.


    YW: So, it's really about the individual. What I learned is that a successful project really depends on whose hands it is in, which makes a huge difference. So just to hear the person tell the story is invaluable.

    BC: Yeah, and another important aspect is that, whether it's the consultant or the curator, it’s imperative you put the artist first. In a consulting role, you’re often expected to put the client first and I always felt that that was a really bad move. Anyway, as a curator of public art, the role evolves along with phases of production over a time span that can last as long as five years before a project is brought to fruition. Sometimes it’s about developing a curatorial framework and other times it’s about project management and oversight. When I started at UBC, I inherited a project that was already underway and that was Esther Shalev-Gerz's artwork, The Shadow. Esther was perhaps one of the first artists with a socially engaged practice to be commissioned by the University to develop an idea specific to the situation and context of UBC. Rather than acquiring an already existing work, or supporting an artist to realize an idea they had already developed, Esther was commissioned to begin a process of investigation. She started her research quite broadly, first in philosophy, then gravitating to the Botanical Gardens, and then boom, she had this idea that she wanted to see to fruition. By the time I came on, it was about how to make that project feasible and how best to realize it. There's that kind of role to play in a project, right?


    Holly Schmidt leading Bill Pechet's UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture ENDS 401 studio class on a sensorial walk of campus, February 25, 2020. Photo: Barbara Cole.


    And then a very different project that started in 2018, with an artist in residence position in the outdoor art program with Holly Schmidt. Holly is a very experienced and quite brilliant socially engaged artist, who developed a research project under the overarching umbrella of Vegetal Encounters, a project that investigates how we might learn from the natural ecosystems of plants, the different ecologies that exist between the buildings, and how we might apply that knowledge during this time of climate crisis. The way we set this residency up was that it was to be a slow residency, one that didn't have a fixed end date. We started with a moving target of at least three years and within that, we left open what the final outcome would be. The intention was for Holly to follow the trajectories of her research with manifestations of artworks of different durations along the way. It has been a really fantastic residency so far. Holly has worked with different faculties and students—coming into classrooms, mycology classes, botanical classes. She's worked on a series of weather forecasts that are very poetic, that are installed on windows reflecting not only the climatic conditions, but the impact of the climate on the body. They're very beautiful phrases, a kind of daily forecast that appear as reflective texts on windows. They mirror not only the outdoor environment, but the person reading the text. Another piece she’s been working on has been with a group of students to design outdoor classrooms that can be assembled and disassembled easily and move around campus to different locations. This is especially important now with the impact of COVID-19. She's also working towards a series of fireweed fields, replacing lawns with fireweed as a metaphor of resurgence, hope and healing. Holly is an artist who very much embraces the notion of making research public. She's not afraid of presenting herself as a non-expert. She situates herself within different situations and then brings people in to learn from in a very public way through walks, podcasts, talks, workshops, a whole variety of ways to participate. Within all of that, Holly is consistent in acknowledging our host, trying to connect with Musqueam as much as possible and drawing upon their knowledge in respectful ways. She's been taking the Musqueam language course, amongst a number of other ways to connect.

    This kind of slow, durational project is really important to include as part of the program. A commission doesn't always have to manifest as a large-scale permanent artwork in order to have a lasting legacy. Things can exist in the public imagination for many years without there being a physical object. So we’ve been working towards more performative and temporary works as well. In the early months of the pandemic, when the University was shut down, we worked in collaboration with the School of Music to invite eight different student musicians and one composer to respond to some of the deserted spaces on campus—to make sound in this very altered sonic environment—to respond to this new set of conditions. We did a series of performances for the grass and the squirrels. The series was called Sonic Responses.


    YW: Is there any documentation online?

    BC: Yes. With COVID-19 and the new public health restrictions, we had to very quickly beef up our documentation of things that we do in order to reach our audiences. So yeah, we started working with Aya Garcia, who is a local videographer, and worked with her through Sonic Responses and continued working with her through the Belkin’s current exhibition Soundings.

    With Soundings, I become more involved than I would typically with what’s going on inside the space of the gallery. But this one is quite a bit more integrated with the outdoor art program because so many of the works are being responded to in other places around the campus. The documentation needs have been huge because we’ve had to limit the number of people gathering. Videos and stills are up on the Belkin website. In the case of Sonics, you can see each of the performances, and there is a map showing where they took place. You can go on your own walking tour and hear the pieces in situ if so inclined.

    All of that to say that we’re interested in a range of work—temporary, durational, as well as permanent commissions that relate more to research. That’s not to say that we aren’t pleased when donations come our way. Recently, we received a donation of Stela I and Stela II by Elza Mayhew, who is a Victoria based artist. This pair of sculptures first made their appearance in the Venice Biennial in 1964 and I think Mayhew was among one of the first women artists to be featured. This donation really benefits the overall collection, adding a woman into what is currently a male dominated collection. The sculptures are a really wonderful abstract pair made from cast aluminum, an unusual material for the time.


    RH: That's fascinating about your COVID response. Yan has done some very effective programming to adapt to the situation, with the Art Museum, and with Markham. But I haven't heard of the idea of performances that the public experiences through its documentation, specifically, which happens to be online because of the pandemic, so that's quite interesting, because that constructs a different type of space. We were talking with Barbara Fischer about the kind of space that's being constructed online because of the pandemic. This is a different way to construct it, through, as you said, the imaginary space of the university and people's experience of it. That's super interesting. Can you say a little bit more about your role? Are you the sounding board with these artists—with Holly for instance—does she come to you with an idea and then you work through it together?

    BC: Holly and I connect pretty frequently. Whether it's planning or troubleshooting, trying to form new collaborations or new partnerships, it's varied in terms of the things that we try to work through together. But yeah, it's a pretty close relationship.


    RH: In terms of your role to, as Yan said, create this space of knowledge production within the campus itself, do you create wayfinding maps, or something similar for students?

    BC: There is an outdoor art walking tour brochure that relates to the information about the collection on the Belkin website. We're working now on unifying our outdoor art signage across campus. The signage includes a QR code that takes the viewer to the website where you can see videos, interviews and access other kinds of information to help understand the artwork and how it came to be there.

    My work is really three pronged. One is to commission new work; another is to steward the collection, maintain and take care of the works; and to refresh or enliven the works in the collection and invite responses to it. I'm super lucky working through the Belkin because it's a really incredible team. The curation is rigorous and challenging. Naomi Sawada does most of the public programming at the gallery, including conducting tours of the outdoor collection. There’s also an amazing communications team for putting out information and building the website as a research tool.


    RH: Just to follow up on something I said before, I get that you're not interested in collecting monuments, but more creating experiences to activate the space. Is that correct? It's not like a museum that has goals about collecting specific artists...

    BC: I’ve always felt that a diverse collection is a good collection and by that I’m mostly referring to duration. I wouldn't rule out doing a commission for a large-scale permanent work again. I just think there also has to be room for other projects from the immediate to the longer term. I feel the same way about municipal public art collections as well. They really need to be dynamic programs.


    YW: You mentioned donations. For public art projects, placement is an important aspect. I wonder for those non-commissioned works that are donated, do they usually go into storage, or will they find a place on campus right away—how does that happen with the placement of a donation?

    BC: If a work comes forward, we wouldn't accept it to just go into storage. We don’t have any storage! If somebody approaches us with a donation, unless we feel like we can find a good placement for it, we won’t accept it.


    YW: So siting is already part of the consideration when accepting the work?

    BC: Absolutely. With the Mayhew, it was quite a process of finding the right location for it. In the end, I'm super happy with where it's going. There are some great sight lines and the nearby architecture is of the same era and with a similar aesthetic. It will be in a location on campus where there aren’t many other artworks—It kind of extends the reach of the collection. I don’t think I mentioned that in addition to going through an acceptance process with the University Art Committee, anything that is installed on campus has to go through a development permit process. The Development Review Committee reviews the application and then the proposal goes through an open house to get comment from the broader campus community. So, beyond acquiring the work and it entering the collection, there's a whole other kind of process that it undergoes before it meets the ground.


    YW: Right. That's interesting. And I guess, I have one last question. I'm curious about the shift: you have been in the field of public art for a long time, first as a public art consultant for many years, and now as a public art curator for a university campus. I mean, in terms of the type of work you do, how do you see this shift? What made you accept this post?

    BC: It really brought together a number of strings from my career, making art, teaching, working for municipalities and private development and curating. I taught at Emily Carr in the 80s and 90s and it was a big part of my practice. I've always been really interested in art and public space and I gradually moved from art production into curation. I worked for Vancouver’s public art program as a consultant for about five years and then in 2005 I founded Other Sights and at the same time Cole Projects. Other Sights has always really fueled me, working collaboratively to produce temporary works in public space, and doing that alongside public art consulting was an interesting combination of experiences. I started to find that by around 2015, the work I was doing with private developers was becoming less and less rewarding. It seemed like the developers I was working with were not as respectful of the public art process as they used to be. I think to be a good public art consultant you have to be transparent about how decisions are made and maintain a high degree of integrity, otherwise, why would an artist want to work with you? So not wanting to compromise too much, I was starting to search for something else so the timing was good. When this job came along, it seemed like a really great opportunity to meld together these different interests and to have an impact. So, yeah, I decided to go for it.


    YW: I am glad they created the position, a precedence set in the country.


    Interview conducted by Yan Wu and Rosemary Heather on November 10, 2020 as part of Markham Public Art’s Becoming Public Art: Working Models and Case Studies for Art in Public, a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd. Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.




  • Public Art on Campus (Part 1) - A Conversation with Emelie Chhangur and Lisa Myers

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    16 Nov 2020
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    In this series of interviews, Markham Public Art looks at the topic of public art on campus. What kind of a public does an artwork create or speak to in this context? How does it differ from works made for other parts of the public sphere? In these conversations, Yan Wu, Public Art Curator for the City of Markham, and art writer Rosemary Heather speak with four curators about the work they do in the context of university life. Emelie Chhangur and Lisa Myers talk about their work with Tania Williard on her commission for York University’s Glendon Campus; Barbara Cole speaks about being the Curator of Outdoor Art at the University of British Columbia’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, a rare position in the university context in Canada; and Barbara Fischer delves into her role as the Executive Director and Chief Curator at the University of Toronto’s Art Museum. Universities are highly complex institutions that serve multiple publics. Despite being dedicated to the production of knowledge, these conversations show how contemporary art finds ways to challenge and invigorate the production of the public sphere on campus.

    Emelie Chhangur is an artist and writer, and Director and Curator, Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, ON) and, formerly, Senior Curator, Art Gallery of York University (Toronto).

    Lisa Myers is an artist and independent curator, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (formerly the Faculty of Environmental Studies) at York University (Toronto). Myers is a member of Beausoleil First Nation and she is based in Port Severn and Toronto, Ontario.


    Rosemary Heather: Can you give us a quick overview of the campus collection you are each associated with, its history and policies, who manages it, its current focus and your respective roles?

    Emelie Chhangur: I can begin. In the context of a university gallery, I think it differs from institution to institution as the priorities of these institutions are different. The AGYU (Art Gallery of York University), for instance has quite a significant collection of public art on the campus, which came out of the purview of Loretta Yarlow, the first director of the AGYU. She established a commissioning project that was a collaboration between visiting international artists and the sculpture studio. Over the years, there were some gifts that felt more like they were driven by an agenda of “enlivening the campus” and that sort of sensibility, but also like so many public monument situations, the campus would replicate works seen in other campuses, the same way cities do. Nevertheless, we are talking about a project driven by campus redevelopment. The care and maintenance of that collection, of course, falls into the hands of the AGYU, but it's slightly different than, say, how acquisitions would happen for the collection that sits in a more conventional vault scenario.

    Lisa Myers: I work as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (formerly the Faculty of Environmental Studies) and so I'm on the campus and I do experience those public pieces. My only knowledge of them is through my interaction or my walking by them as landmarks—you know, for example: there's that orange sculpture in front of our building. As a curator I should be much more informed and interested in all the art all around me but that hasn't been my focus since I've been at York. I'm really thankful for Emelie's knowledge of this.

    EC: I think this is very interesting. I felt compelled to answer this question in the context of production and protocol—as if the sculptures are contained units and this is certainly the case for the sculptures that we’re talking about. I don't really like the word “landmark” on campus, but they're very much contained and, if I think of Lisa’s work in the public sphere, it’s much more a fluid or discursive or ephemeral or performative engagement with the land or with artists in that way. So it's very interesting to think about. I came out of the gates of talking about the most easily recognizable kinds of public art that are situated and very immobile—large steel works of a very particular time. My impulse wasn't to talk about a program of what I would consider public art at the AGYU over the last 15 years or so that took place in the public sphere as social practice projects or street processions or civic ceremonials, and those other other parts of the program. I should have distinguished the permanent versus impermanent aspect of public art.

    LM: I think what you said Emelie invites me a little more into a response, so I do have some more things to think about and say. Just thinking about more recent works of public art—and maybe you know more about how they connect to the permanent collection, or not—but thinking about the large Inuit carving that is outside of the Sports Center, the name of which I don't remember...the thing about the campus is that it's so huge that you can be there forever but you always know how to get your building and you know the name of that building so I'm being very transparent about my non-knowledge of this... But what was interesting to me is this work is coming out of a particular professor's research area and inviting an opening up and trying to make visible a kind of presence of Inuit artists that we don't see on the campus, or indigenous artists either really, except in some places, like in the first student Student Centre, where Maria Hupfield has some permanent work.

    EC: This is super interesting to think about too because I'm realizing there's also these other aspects of what public works are on York campus. They came out of a student fund to buy work, and of course Maria graduated with an MFA in 2003—I think—because I was just starting at the AGYU, so this could have come through that as well. Some of the works are not necessarily a part of the AGYU collection, but are part of an ongoing purchasing fund of student's work that gets installed, which is awesome. And, if we’re talking about purviews and policies and who looks after things, this can start to become a bit of a nightmare as to who is responsible for what. Sometimes, the goodwill to have things in the public sphere and to support artists’ work goes without proper signage, or they are put in places that can be touched, which is sometimes cool and great, but sometimes it also destroys the work. Then there's always a question of who is responsible for maintaining them, how did they come into the collection, etc. It offers up a way of thinking about this idea taking care of works in perpetuity.

    LM: I love the layers that come out of this. Now that I'm talking about it, I realize I do have something more to say. I did look around the campus to look for Indigenous art, to look for Indigenous presence, in a visual kind of way, and we did this as a part of Jane's Walk, a big group of us. Another piece that was brought up that we stopped at and talked about was the Gitxsan artist Ya’Ya (Charles) Heit’s carved and painted panels in Osgoode Hall, which I assume is also just part of Osgoode Hall’s collection, right? So that’s another interesting work that stands out to me, that I've noticed, and that means something to me, because I really think about the Gitxsan and the Wet'suwet'en and the law, like Canadian law and how those are really important associations for me. Those are just more of my responses to these things I've encountered, rather than me being an expert on what these collections mean or how they are managed.

    EC: I'm glad you brought up law schools. They are places on university campuses to look at. They tend to have a good collection. They tend to manage the collection well. They tend to get donations and they tend to purchase. I'm just thinking of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre right now at Queen's University and I'm just thinking of this major donation that the Law School just had of a painting by Norval Morrisseau, right at the moment that Queen’s Law School is getting rid of its John A. Macdonald name. Law schools seem to be a progressive entity on a campus, in the sense of an engagement with art practices and an appreciation of the work of contemporary art.


    Yan Wu: Does the Law School have a separate, not a public art curator, but someone who oversees and does the planning for the direction of their collection? If it's progressive, is there a progressive mind behind it?

    EC: I don't personally think so, not to my knowledge anyway. I think it has something potentially to do with who alumni are, or potentially that the Law School has money. And maybe there is a kind of history in general of law firms or the milieu being engaged with collection building. York, for instance, has an artist-in-residence, so they are sort of engaged and thinking about artists thinking about law, which I would just offer as another public art practice. One doesn’t always default to thinking about artists participating in law and policy as falling into the realm of public art but it certainly does to my mind.


    YW: Do you have any examples of work coming out of that?

    LM: Yes, Anique Jordan. I think she was the last artist in residence at Osgoode, that I know of, and she did a public performance called Evidence about a legal case from the late 1880s involving racism and injustice experienced by a Black woman named Clara Ford, which responded to history law files. Do you know more about it, Emelie?

    EC: I know some because this piece, Evidence used the story of Clara Ford, which started with the project that the AGYU commissioned for Migrating the Margins. I wasn’t able to attend the performance. I do believe that the performance overlapped with your Community Art for Social Change class that hosted the Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia collective from Saskatoon. I think Tanya Willard was in town at the time doing the site visits at Glendon, we visited some of your class and that was the weekend before COVID.


    RH: I would just say maybe there's a connection between the law and public space? Because they're both concerned with the public sphere and maybe have more of a consciousness about the implications of legislating the public sphere. Maybe that accounts for this greater receptivity to art? Can you talk more about the commissioning process, and specifically about the Tania Willard piece?


    Tania Willard, Surrounded/Surrounding, wood burning fire ring from the exhibition Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts at Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Photo: Tim Forbes.


    EC: Lisa, do you want to talk about the Tania Willard piece proposed for the Glendon campus and the commissioning process?

    LM: We were going to put out a posting or call for submissions. We were developing the call and having meetings. But through a discussion with our committee we decided that we wanted an artist who could engage with the community at Glendon campus and this conversation took in consideration recent works. Once we decided to work with Tania Willard, I did convey an experience I had with her work from the show Soundings that was at the Agnes Etherington Gallery, that has traveled across the country and continues to travel. My experience was, at the opening, a performance where Tania’s work Surrounded/Surroundings that she made in 2018 was used by another artist, Jeneen Frei Njootli, for a performance.

    EC: There are aspects of that piece that, I gather, were quite private. I've seen images of the procession from the Agnes Etherington Gallery to Brant Street and the Four Directions Indigenous Centre at Queen’s, but then there were aspects of it that the artist didn't want made public as image documentation. Which is another super interesting thing about public work that isn't always just available for the public to see whenever they want, but actually is constituted through the experience of a public being there.

    LM: This is in the installation at Agnes Etherington and you can see there are stumps that are seating and there is a laser-etched metal burning fire pit kind of thing. There are also words that were, I think, lasered into these logs, as well. So this work, yes you could sit on it, but it also, within the white cube, had the feeling of an artwork that you had a limited sense of interacting with, its an artwork therefore you might not touch it. The point of this performance, the two artists, Tania and Jeneen, both invited everybody to help them, to pick up a stump, take it outside. And so that was this moment of like rupture, of like okay, we can touch this thing and not only that we’re going to put them outside so people can sit on them outside. Then this pit was hauled outside on a cart. When we got outside, Jeneen Frei Njootli was doing a performance that I believe was an interpretation of a score, which also appeared on the wall of the gallery. It's a print on paper and it's a score that is a graphic notation of a wood pile, and this graphic notation manifested in a public space through the performance of Jeneen Frei Njootli, which involves chopping wood with a large sound tool that she had created out of an axe that had copper leafing on it, and that also became a sound tool with a contact mic. The performance continued and she put the contact mic on the fire pit piece and it was on a cart and we all moved as a procession from the front of the gallery to the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre at Queens and there was food and refreshments for us to share. In the backyard of that space, there was a teepee setup and all of the stumps and this big fire pit were placed there inside the teepee. Then the artist started a fire inside of this fire pit and so there was this gifting of this fire pit, which offered not only a kind of functional place to warm yourself, but also invited everyone to gather around. It ended with this feast and a kind of gathering. To me there was a beautiful thing that kind of came from the gallery. The journey that this work took from the gallery to outside of the gallery engaging, with people and sound being part of that, and then that sound continuing as the thing was hauled down the street to this other building with this microphone attached to it, so you heard the sound and all the vibrations that came with it going over the pavement, resonating out of the speakers as we moved along and then becoming this place for us to gather and have a feast together. Now that piece is still there and that is part of the Student Center as a gift. The way that I saw Tania Willard work in this really community-engaged way, on a different territory from her own, and also with people from other nations, she's Secwepemc from the interior Secwepemc territory in BC but the relationship building that happens in her practice, I think is so important. So as soon as we talked about doing something at Glendon I really thought about Tania, but I didn't push for that because I knew that we were going through a group process to find an artist to make work. But I really loved the spirit of this work and the way that Tania works with community, so that was something very special that struck me about Tania’s work. When we did get to the point where the discussion came around to a few artists, I spoke to my experience with Tania’s work and the way that she worked across Nations and worked in a very engaged way. I didn’t see her practice as parachuting in and just sort of doing a very quick responsive, symbolic gesture. I knew that she would be engaged with the community, the campus, its history and the student body, the faculty and meeting everyone. So that's what ended up happening is that when we invited her for a campus visit, Emelie took the lead in bringing her into the city and meeting many people and walking the Glendon campus, to really be able to respond to it. She very quickly came to this idea of creating this piece with the working title: “Ancient Country Seat”. Cast concrete is her chosen material for this work. It relates to the architectural features on the outside of the mansion, it was the original settlement on this land where Glendon campus is. That mansion has a lot of cast concrete features, on the fencing, around the back railings, and different things like this, so she wanted to be in conversation with those sorts of features and so these seats or benches she proposes to make would also create places for gathering. The designs will come from different workshops with students, so she’s setting this template of a kind of bench of some sort but the design and the nuance of that work will come from the process of connecting with the Indigenous students. Then these would be public spaces. I think Emelie and I did a really good job of communicating between the artist and the administration at Glendon, because they were like “Well, are people allowed to touch these things?” and we had to kind of advocate that these things needed to be used and that their value as artworks is that they offer spaces for students to be together.

    EC: On the Agnes side of things, it was gifted to the Four Directions at Queen’s and it's very much valued: a living entity at the Four Directions, where fire is kept every Monday. So, it still continues to have this incredible function for gathering and ceremony. That was an intentionality of Tania’s work for Soundings—this idea that it would be gifted, and there's a number of works from Soundings that have been acquired by different entities at Queen’s and they proudly host these works on their buildings. It really was a moment of a public art awakening at Queen’s that has transformed the way that the campus is actually thinking about itself, and which might be a bit different than York. I mean I think it has a lot to do with geography, York being in the north of the city and it has developed over time from being basically in a field and really trying to create a sense of being its own city. And Queen’s being in the middle of Kingston, very very present in Kingston, at one point in its history Queens considered building a moat around itself to be separated from the rest of Kingston! Now it’s thinking about the permeability of the campus and the wider context in which it operates. Public art, contemporary art, and these kinds of works that lend themselves to participation, I think, are important for Queen’s in imagining its future. I was lucky to be the one with Tania at Glendon doing the site visit and just being able to experience how she observed everything, from these concrete colonial structures, to what the plantings were, where the trees came from, a sense of the incredible landscape that surrounds Glendon—Glendon is a really beautiful campus—and the way she quickly synthesized these things. I think it's worth mentioning that this project represents the first presence of Indigenous people at Glendon. But there's a lot at stake for this piece. The impulse toward creating a work that gathers people and that creates gathering spaces—and it's not to say that there aren't Indigenous students and faculty—is key. Often Glendon students and even faculty will go to the Keele campus for meetings, for the Indigenous Advisory Council, all of that stuff—so Tania’s work is tasked with creating these spaces at Glendon anew, and by invitation, and I think this was also part of Tania’s desire, also in general for all BIPOC students at Glendon, because they also don't have a place to gather. There's a real lack of spaces for students to convene, organize, hang out, so that was also a part of this. It really has become a catalyst for the involvement of many entities, from consultation, but also thinking about producing aspects of it: from sculpture studio with fourth-year students and bringing together the Keele and Glendon campuses, which don't always work together to grounds and facilities staff. They're in different parts of the city, so the project is like Tania’s curatorial way of bringing things together and putting things into relation and bringing new forms into the world, which I deeply believe is the role and function of the curatorial. I think it's just worth mentioning this curatorial approach of the artist and which is used in all the aspects of the project’s making.


    YW: I wonder, how did this project come about, who initiated it?

    EC: It came about with some funding that was earmarked by York and set aside and it was given I guess—Lisa, correct me if I'm wrong— to the Indigenous Council at York.

    LM: I think it was an initiative through Glendon. It was Yann Allard-Tremblay who is an Assistant Professor in Political Science and Sociology at Glendon, who knew that Glendon wanted to do something, or he may have even advocated for something to happen, I think that's probably more accurate, he had advocated to create some visual presence, as a Wendat First Nation person, he was very much advocating for more activity for Indigenous students and making more of a visual presence at the Glendon campus. So he was chairing this committee that was working through the commissioning of things like this. That’s how it was first brought to my attention through Yann’s work.


    YW: It was Yann’s advocacy and then you were brought on board, and then Emelie was brought on board, and that’s how the project was produced, shaped into the way it is. It's a different curatorial approach, including the artist themselves to really shape the project.

    LM: Yann brought it to the Indigenous Council. I'm on the Indigenous Council as well and so then he said he was putting together a committee and invited me to be on it, and then Emelie was also invited, which I was very thankful for because I think your expertise in commissioning artists, bringing together budgets, working with artists from an institutional positioning is really valuable. As an independent curator myself, I work with artists a lot and I know a lot, but when you are in an institution, from the position of a curator, there is so much knowledge and skills that you acquire from navigating that.

    EC: We talked a lot about this at the committee level, of how this project is also instituting different practices and protocols around working with Indigenous artists and to commission public works or in general. How would this set the precedents of those processes and maybe do something different institutionally that didn't replicate institutional structures—York didn't really have these things in place, anyway, so it was the right opportunity to create them, from this point of view. Lisa, Tania and I took time to co-write a collaborative-style contract and to think about the contract as a document that was reflective of a kind of practice and process that was not entirely rooted in the bureaucracy or institutional framework of the University, but also from an artist point of view and being respectful of particular processes that need to take place, including community engagement and seeing this project happen over a longer period of time than parachuting something in, for instance, or something like that. So, this also was an opportunity to change or constitute the processes and protocols around this work for York’s wider systems.


    YW: Part of the intention of this interview is to learn about the working models everywhere, and when moving forward, how we should do things, if we want to do something equally respectful in a beautiful way in the future and how to do it because I think that's the question in everyone’s mind. You see something and you think, how can we do it?

    EC: I mean it's always on my mind. I think this way of thinking radically changed my curatorial practice. I was very interested in the temporality of making and of following the trajectory of a project and letting that lead the decision-making practices around it, rather than going into a project with an outcome in mind. Of course, at Glendon, there was a desire to have a public work, but actually the parameters of that were quite open. But to me it's always been a dialogue between working with individuals and groups and communities and artists all in collaboration, often not necessarily having a natural affinity to begin with, but also how that process of working and how the different cultural protocols and social economies manifest in those projects have bearing on the institution’s practice—it’s a practice I’ve come to call “inreach”—but nevertheless, it is the ways in which the institution itself bends to meet the methodological demands of the people that the institution is working with, and really implicating the institution in that practice that matters. Even when you're working with an artist from elsewhere over three years, the artist is obviously not going to live in situ—ha! it would be awesome to have that kind of budget—and besides, the artist has other things to do, but really the institution or actually the curator and the community members who are working on the project are the ones continually engaged in the locality and the specificity of the project for themselves. All of the projects I did in the social sphere of Toronto were always about how an artist's practice lent itself to creating new allegiances and relationships between individuals who lived in Toronto as well as their renewed relationship with the official entities and institutional structures of the City of Toronto itself.


    RH: Maybe you could say a little about Out There because it was quite important initiative from York and it encompasses all of these ideas about creating relationships; and I would just say everything that you and Lisa have been talking about is quite different, from there being a sculpture on campus that you walk by and maybe vaguely wonder who it's by, who the artist is—or not—and that's typically the experience we have of a lot of monumental public art. The kind of innovation that you are both engaged in represents a new and a different era in how we think about public art in public space.

    EC: Out There was a cheeky response to the downtown art community being like, “All the way out there?” But it quickly became an operative concept and a vision. A vision not a brand because it was an operative concept of difference that differed from itself and so in doing so it was not differing from downtown, not thinking of “out there” as being geographically-related to a centre, but actually differing from itself, which mean the art institution and the transformation happening within the institution itself... The subject of Out There always was the institution and practice itself. But I think about one of the last big projects I did at AGYU was on the Line 1 Subway extension, with poets and rappers and dancers and singers from Jane-Finch and Scarborough, with Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca. It was also part of a more than decade-long mentorship program for young poets and rappers. It brought two of Toronto suburbs together, the east and west ends, who don't always hang together. But it took up the public sphere and I remember, Elder Duke Redbird said to us “Whatever you do on that new subway will determine its future use” so we went in with intention of this new subway extension that for me represented the geographical realignment of the City of Toronto after so many years of advocating from “out there”, and in fact that was the moment that we retired Out There—because we were like “We are so here” folks!—and really taking up that civic space as a place of performance and as a platform to showcase and frame the incredible talent that is the Jane-Finch community and finally finally ! driving in that final stake that Out There was always about: we value the artistic innovations of our locality! We are not peripheral to a center that determines the aesthetic criteria of a place! We are, in fact, the driving force behind it. Concepts of movement and migration and belonging, were taken up in part as a subject of that film but also as being in movement on a subway that was linking geographies of Toronto. The curatorial set to me is, of course, the artists and individuals with whom I am working, but also the entities, the city entities with whom we have to work to get the work done. So in Ring of Fire, which was the procession that I did in 2015, it was also the 52 Division of the Toronto Police that were, in my opinion, part of the curatorial set. What we're bringing into relation in the curatorial as it pertains to the civic sphere is also the rappers from Jane-Finch and 52 Division of the Toronto Police. They sit side-by-side as equals in this project—only the rappers are way better artists, obviously. The curatorial for me is always about relations that are created.


    YW: We talked about this new process, which is about maintenance. Normally with a stand alone piece there is a maintenance plan. When you are creating a gathering place, I think it's a different level of maintenance and care. And the artist and the curators, you are the professionals you know how to mediate these gathering processes and make them become a gathering place. And when you are gone and the students and I think that they can take it over they can share it but how to think about this caring and the gathering as part of the maintenance plan of this new type of public art piece.

    EC: Tania's piece is an awesome example of this. This is because it is simultaneously about how one engages—even to include the Facilities Department at York—in the process of making this piece so that they have bearing on its development as an art work; so everybody feels a sense of ownership of it as a work and so they can care to take care of it. It is important for people to know a public work’s history, its story and what makes people care about work like this is anecdotes that come from being involved, of being able to tell us a story about it, of having an experience of its making and the more people you engage with that, the more people take up this concept of care in a real way that makes these pieces like living entities. I guess this takes us back to the beginning of our conversation. I’m interested in crafting the desire to know these works as living entities that persist through time, I think.

    LM: And the expertise that those different facilities, or all the different people that we were in conversation with around this work—that hasn't been made yet, let’s note—but like I think having the conversation about what's this concrete going to be? How heavy is this thing going to be? The questions that were posed to us invited the facilities guy, invited his expertise into the making of the thing. And so I feel like that is part of its making, and so he feels an ownership or a kind of connection to it maybe is a better word and also an accountability to it, that you know he was part of that process and growing of that thing. So he has a relationship. There are a bunch of different relationships that have built around this making, and he also has the institutional memory that will be carried on because he was part of that, just as one person out of the whole. I think those are all very valuable and really interesting to reflect. This has really been an excellent reflection. It makes me clear on the things I have to keep in mind as I try to shepherd this work through the institution to its realization.


    YW: When will it be done?

    LM: I don't know because COVID has pushed things off. And I think there is a kind of push—I've heard there is a bit of a push between Glendon and the artist to say “Let's just fabricate this somewhere”. But I want to advocate for being true to that process that they agreed to, and so I would say it's off by a year or so at least.


    Interview conducted by Yan Wu and Rosemary Heather on November 5, 2020 as part of Markham Public Art’s Becoming Public Art: Working Models and Case Studies for Art in Public, a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd. Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.









  • Public Art and City Planning - A Conversation with Jane Perdue

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    31 Oct 2020
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    In the second interview in the series, Public Art and City Planning - A Conversation with Jane Perdue, Yan Wu, Public Art curator for the City of Markham, and art writer Rosemary Heather, talk with Perdue about her career, the changes she has seen over the years, what tools planners have for the provision of public art, what it's like to work with private developers, and whether she has a favourite amongst the hundreds of Toronto’s public artworks.

    Jane Perdue has worked as the City of Toronto’s Public Art Coordinator for the City Planning Division for almost three decades. As an independent consultant, Perdue developed a Public Art Policy Framework for the City of Markham (then Town of Markham) in 2003, predating the public art program that was formalized in 2013. Perdue has also worked with other municipalities in Ontario and Canada on developing public art policies and public art master plans.


    RH: How long have you been in the field of public art and what are the major shifts you have seen over the years?

    I was hired by the City of Toronto in 1991, so I've been with the City for almost 30 years full-time as City Planning’s Public Art Coordinator. I studied film history and art studies and after I graduated from York University my background in public art really started when I was hired at A Space, the artist run centre. I was hired by AA Bronson of General Idea at A Space. I had some idea about General Idea, but I did not realize that I had such a wonderful opportunity. I worked with them for four years. We did a number of satellite projects. Some of them were on the TTC. Ben Mark Holzberg created a project called Rolling Landscape, using Cibachrome in the ad space inside subway cars and also installations in the bus shelters. So that was really innovative, it was around 1980-81. A Space also sponsored a performance at Nathan Phillips Square, with Marina and Ulay, and that was a fabulous opportunity for me to help with that. It was a 24-hour performance of Marina Abramovic and Ulay staring at each other. Then I was appointed to the Public Art Commission in 1985 and was on the Commission for four years as a volunteer to help advise the City. I came to the City with a visual art and film background but I became an accredited planner about 12-13 years ago, because I realized how interesting planning was and I wanted to understand better how planning worked. For my first assignment, it was urgent, I had to help write a report for something that didn't happen for another 25 years and I had trouble for a while understanding that but that was also a lesson realized: you plan for an idea and it may take a decade or two to actually be fulfilled. As far as changes, at the beginning we would be speaking with the architect with the developers and urban designers and so on and it was a very conservative approach and it was usually sometimes they are already had an artwork in mind that they thought would just be perfect for the site and they wanted to know where they could site the plinth. So it was really about an independent sculpture—and there is nothing wrong with that—but the change has been over the years is about looking at the various opportunities for how public art may play a role in defining a character or identity or terminus, or locating people to an area as a draw. The public art might be part of the community planning guidelines and the urban design guidelines objectives, so the understanding has expanded in that way.

    RH: A lot of public art today is associated with condo development. Can you describe what public art looked like before there was so much development happening in the city?

    When I started, it was a recession, so there wasn’t a lot going on. There were a lot of policies that were put in place. Our official plan came in, I think it was 1994, and before that we had hired a woman—Patricia Fuller—who is very well known in the States as a public art consultant. She helped us to do what we called City Plan 91, and we had a whole chapter on public art. We were very new at it as far as implementing policies and programs. Before I was hired, Ken Greenberg, who is very well known in Toronto, was running the Urban Design section and worked with a woman—Mary Lynn Reimer —and they looked at policies and programs in the United States, because those started in around 1960, 1959. We were looking at examples that might fit for Toronto. That's why there was a public art commission in 1985. We didn’t have a lot of programming then but that was the beginning of it, looking at the processes and what would work. Since then, yes there's been a lot of condominiums that have been built, but that's the market. That’s not our policies, that's what the market has offered. But we do have public art in offices and in other institutions for sure, and there's a number of examples that are across the city and it's not just in the downtown core. Development certainly is happening the most in that area, but also in North York, East York and the West District, former Etobicoke.

    RH: You’ve been on the scene a long time, and you were working with American public art consultants. How did the controversy around Richard Serra’s public work Tilted Arc affect you?

    I’m not sure it affected us but we heard about it and realized what it really came down to was moral rights and copyright. Who owns the sculpture and who can remove it? I mean, how appalling of this developer to actually remove the artwork. So rights of artists were very important to us, so we have that in our contracts with the developers. It's a hard one to get your head around saying “Well, I own the art but I don't own the idea.” We saw that as a landmark case. We also had our own controversy in Toronto, with Michael Snow and his geese sculpture in the Eaton Centre. The marketing people wanted to put little ribbons around the geese for Christmas, and then they were thinking about Easter, that might be fun. Michael took them to court and said “No, you can't do that.” That was also lessons learned for all of us, about the importance of respecting an artwork. On the other hand, there are two Jonathan Borofsky’s Hammering Man in Frankfurt and Seattle. It moves and, seasonally, it gets different hats. But Jonathan likes that. It’s playful and he supported it. But someone else might not think that’s a fun idea. People crawl up it and put a hat on it. And that’s public engagement. The Eaton Centre one was about marketing but this was not about public engagement.


    YW: Part of the reason we commissioned this conversation is to look at different working models and how different the municipalities have public art programs and what we can learn from them. I’m very curious about the two streams of public art in the City of Toronto—one under Planning and one under Culture—and how they operate separately. What's the difference? How do they interact with each other and facilitate each other?

    Well, with the former City of Toronto—and this is going back before amalgamation—City Planning did all of it. City Planning commissioned capital projects, our own infrastructure projects—that's when the public art program started—and then also the private developer program. This is when we had North York, East York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, Metropolitan Toronto. There were several different layers of governments and agencies. Metro Toronto had its own agency, and the other boroughs were beginning to have their own public art policies. With amalgamation, almost 20 years ago, the roles and responsibilities were divided up, because the City just became so big for one department to be able to manage or handle all of that. It wasn't possible. So, the culture division is responsible for the art that is on City-owned lands. Planning is responsible for overseeing the private developer program. But from that, culture gets a lot of money from the developers. The developers have three options. One is to commission public art on site on their own property in the public realm, or they can donate the funds to the City and that would then go to the culture division. Culture is not going to commission on the developer's property. They're going to find a park or a public area in the vicinity of the development—ideally—and then commission the artwork. If it's not a big enough sum, they will collect the money until there's enough there to commission a work of art. Then the third option is a combination of the two. There might be some money that would go to the City and then some that would remain on-site. The culture division runs competitions. They are open, they are transparent, they usually happen in two stages, and they do a public call. With the install, the City oversees this, and hires consultants to help them, because it's not a large department. City Planning oversees the method within which the developer will commission public art: what kind of competition they have, where will the art be, who is on the jury, who is making decisions, who are the artists, and so on. It's a paper trail, in a way. They put together a public art plan. It comes to a group called the Toronto Public Art Commission, chaired by David Anselmi, which is a group of volunteers who advise the Council, and they also advise City Planning. When the plan is approved, we report it to the Council, and then they go ahead with the actual commissioning of the work. So there's two different streams, but we work together very closely, and while the Culture division is responsible for works on capital infrastructure, they don't always get it. It's not always applied consistently. They actually get a lot of money through City Planning, that goes directly from the private sector. A significant amount is generated from the private sector that comes to the City.


    YW: In that case, if it’s option one and the developer decides to run their own plan, on their own site, and the developer keeps ownership of the work, do they have the option to do direct commissions? In the context of municipalities, commissioning methods are limited by procurement policy or purchasing by-laws. Because of budget size, this usually requires a competitive procurement process, which makes directly working with certain artists not an option—either through direct commissions or curated projects, even though we know their work will work well in the context of the site.

    Exactly. You have to be accountable. Everybody does. It doesn't matter what kind of competition. At the end of the day everybody has to be able to say, “This is how it happened.”


    YW: Even with a private developer, do they have to do this?

    They don't have to do it. But they bring forward a public art plan to the City. We review it. It goes to the Commission. We report on it to the Council, and if there's changes, they will let us know. But the changes might be because an artist that they want to work with isn't available. Or maybe a jury member isn't available. But do they have to explain how they do it? Perhaps not, but they might want to. They might have a brochure or they have a plaque. And that’s for the public to enjoy as well. That's such an important aspect of this as well. That's really how it works. There's a lot of accountability. Not to get too much into the bureaucracy, but let's say they had committed a million dollars, they actually provide financial receipts. They let us know how the money was spent. We have a chart specifying how much you can spend on maintenance, on administration and how much should be held for the actual artwork. That's what we're interested in knowing and making sure that it's there, that it's not being used up by changing drawings or architecture—all of that. The other aspect you asked me about was: what kind of competition? We encourage the developers to have a competition. They could have a direct commission, and they have. Sometimes it's worked. We just warned them, I guess you could say: “You know what that means? You're working with one artist and what happens if it doesn't work out? You need to have a memorandum of understanding. You need to work with the artists. Have legal agreements, that if you need to say, we can't do this together, you can get there. I won’t name the artist, but there was a case—probably now about 10 years ago—where the artist sued the developer because the developer did not go ahead with that particular commission and commissioned another artist. And we had to be all involved in that. So they do have the option to do a direct commission, but for the most part it's a limited competition and it's probably five or six artists that they’re interested in. Some developers will do an open call, which is great. But you usually know which artists might apply. Or they could encourage artists to apply. So they'll have a two stage or maybe three stage process: an open call to see what's out there, just send in your credentials to get a short list together, and then invite those artists to produce proposals and be paid for it. That's the other part of it that we look at with the developers, of course, how much are the artists getting, what are the fees? It's very important to oversee that. We help the developer spend their money, in the right way.


    YW: On this type of project, does the developer usually hire a third party to run the competition, or run the project as a whole for them?

    Always. They will always hire a consultant. We have had a couple developers in the past who are art collectors—and again I won't say who—but very prominent collectors, who say “I can run this competition”. And within a few days we get a phone call back asking “Who is it that we could hire”? Because it's a lot of work. It’s administration, it’s understanding what artists are out there, understanding the implications of a contract for an artist—all of those things that happen behind-the-scenes that aren't as much fun and interesting, but are obviously key to the success of the program. So that's why we have in our chart a limit on how much a developer could spend on a consultant and running the competitions. If they don't hire an art consultant, we know that the staff at the City are going to be doing a lot of work, and that’s not our role.


    YW: Does the developer have the option to let the City run the project?

    No. In the agreements with them, we outline what our expectations are. This includes administration, running competition, etc. Frankly, if a developer asked us to run their competition, we would say “No, we can't do that. We don't have the staff or the resources, and why would we be running a competition for something that then would be not on our land? That's not part of our mandate.” Another city might say “We can help you.” And certainly, I'm not suggesting that they write a public art plan and we report to Council and hear back in three years. Not at all. It's almost on a daily, weekly, monthly basis that we are hearing from the art consultants. If they run into problems and challenges and updates, we're there to help them, for sure, but not to run the program.

    RH: I had a conversation with the public art consultant Brad Golden and he was talking about how the competition in the market ramped up and that's why the architecture in the city got more ambitious, let's say, because there was so much building and they needed to differentiate themselves. That brings up the question: do the developers see that public art as a necessary evil or do they like it? Would they see it as a way to differentiate themselves in the market?

    Yes, they do. And if they see it as a necessary evil, they won’t be doing it. Remember, this is an option for them. It’s voluntary until they agree to do it. It's about density bonusing. It's about allowing the City to be in a position to secure public benefits, and public art is one of them. It may not be on all projects that are eligible. It's the developers option. If they want to enter into the field of public art and commission public art, they will say that. If they don't want to, if they think it's a necessary evil, as you put it, they're not going to do it. And frankly, I don't think it would be much fun for staff either. If they come in and say “we were told we had to do this, how do we get it over with, how do we do it, and so on”. Actually, sometimes it turns around and it's more positive but for the most part, if they don't want to do it, they won't. But if we've secured a public art commitment initially, it could be different owners by then. So they may just decide to go for option two and just give the money to the City, and that’s a contribution as well. And I think when you say that some of the buildings, because of the market, are more interesting, and they're more innovative and creative, absolutely. And so are the architects, and the urban designers and the planners for that project. A lot of them see public art as a real benefit, because it can add that character and signal that this building, this development, is different. Come stay here, come live here, come buy. Rent an office here, or whatever. I think public art not just in Toronto but in the Western world and much further has really taken this on. And it's not new. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. What public art is, with a plaza and so on. But it has evolved and I think that some developers are more open to it because they see the benefits they see how it has the potential to improve their development. They also get awards, they get acknowledged. There's been a number of awards recently. Concord Adex got the Arts and Business award from the Toronto Arts Foundation at the Mayor’s lunch just a few weeks ago, which is fantastic. And that's for all the public that they've done in the city. The Toronto Urban Design Awards for Micah Lexier at the Adelaide Centre won the top award, this is two years ago. So that gets their attention as well.


    YW: How has Section 37, which allows the developer to add community benefits in exchange for increased density, played a role in the public art program?

    Section 37 is part of the planning act and it has formalized the public art program. Whereas, before it came into play—and I think we're talking probably about 15 years ago or so, in the planning act they included Section 37—and they allowed municipalities to secure public benefits as a trade-off to density and bonuses, so really formalizing that kind of engagement. Public art is mentioned, but it could be many public benefits. And it's for municipalities to choose to use Section 37. A lot of municipalities don’t use it. They never have and that’s their choice. Before that, we had different kinds of agreements. Basically, they were called collateral agreements, formalizing a commitment from a developer to commission public art. Over the years, these agreements have become more fulsome. The public art provisions are pretty tight. We have a template that we provide to the lawyers and then the lawyers go back and forth and have a look at it and so on. So it's a tool that we use. It's not the only tool. We have Urban Design guidelines. We have public realm guidelines. We have secondary plans. We have tertiary plans. We have all kinds of different documents that help to engage, or help to forecast that there's a potential for public art. And I I think in my introduction here I did mention but, I'm a planner as well as coming to the field with my background in the visual arts and film, because I find it so interesting. So I'm an accredited planner. I’m a combination of the two, which is fantastic, in that it helps me when I'm in conversation with other developers and planners. Because I understand that public art isn’t the first thing that they think about. It's the first thing I think about. But it's about trying to find that balance. How they would benefit. If public art can play that role, it’s fantastic.


    RH: When I looked at the City’s map of public artworks, which is great, there are many little art works, but does Toronto need some kind of big huge iconic work, like the CN tower? Something that really brands the city, like Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in Chicago?

    When you say there's lots of little works, I mean, there are hundreds of works and some of them are little but I think a lot of them are very large, and really have impact. That map represents what Culture did and what the private developers have done and there are probably about 400 works on that map. It goes right back to the 1850s when donations came to the city and most of those are monuments and memorials and pretty traditional works. Something like Cloud Gate could be fantastic but I did hear Ken Lum’s keynote speech, and he wasn’t being critical of Cloud Gate, but he talked about the attention and how much money it takes to actually maintain that artwork, a million dollars a year, but that remember that Cloud Gate it started with a smaller budget and then it went up and up to about $25 million, and it's fantastic. It's a great tourism draw. I went to Millennium Park because I want to see that and the Plensa that's what you go to, but Chicago also has fantastic art everywhere else in the city, and architecture too. That’s a city that understands what private can do to improve the public realm. And that’s what Millennium Park is. I'm open to it. If there's an idea for an iconic work of art. Where it would be, I don't know. Who it would be by, I don't know. But if we could ask the private sector to contribute to amassing monies to do this, I think that would be great. But if that means that's all we're going to get, then I think that might be a problem. I think you have to have a balance. In planning, if there's an initiative—like the John Street Corridor or the Bloor Street streetscape—if there is an initiative that we say “This is real. We want to dedicate public art dollars to it” then that's what we'll do. And we’ll secure that from the private sector. It comes to the City. It’s held until there is the opportunity to actually do it.


    YW: So about half of the works on the map are owned by the private sector?

    Yes, and the City is working on expanding that inventory to incorporate existing public art websites from City Planning, Culture, and Transportation, and launching it with the Year of Public Art. This includes all of the street art programs. There are dozens and dozens of murals. That’s under Transportation, which is another really interesting program that the City does. That came about because of the graffiti that was happening. Because of the street art that wasn't considered art—it was tagging and vandalizing private buildings. And there was an initiative to put together a committee that looked at the so-called graffiti art and an owner would come forward to the City and say, “I like it. I commissioned it. People want it,” and so it would remain. Otherwise, they were being told to remove it by the bylaw officers, by municipal licensing, and if they didn't remove it, there would be a charge. So they would then sometimes resist and say “I like it.” We haven't met for a long time, but I’m actually on that group that helped to evaluate whether it was art or not, which was a problem too, because that's not for me to do, so we would say “Get some support from your neighbour or your local business association. Write a letter and tell them. That started because of all of the tagging. How can we clean up the street—maybe? And out of that came the StreetARToronto (StART) program, approaching some of these artists and saying “Do you want to do this officially, or not?” If you don't want to do it officially then we won't work with you. But do you want us to work with you and commission works that you can have that might be on a more permanent basis. We can pay you to do that. We can find walls and areas and you can work with the community and actually install these artworks. And that's how that program started. That's going back about a decade and it's just fantastic—what’s been done and how it enlivens the city.


    YW: One last question, you can choose not to answer. You have all these hundreds of works and commissions realized through you, what's your favourite piece?

    No. I can’t do that. I remember somebody else was asked that once and said it’s like asking me who's your favourite child? We have so many backstories on projects that they might be more about how we got there to have something that's magnificent, but I don't think I can do that. When I do slide presentations, I do select ones that are probably the most prominent and maybe the most sophisticated in their presentation. That for me is then congratulating and celebrating whoever commissioned it and the artist, of course, but I do like the ones that people maybe don't know about and maybe discover. There's a lot of artworks in the City of Toronto that people don't even know exists. Maybe you know, we have a sculpture installation by Evan Penny right at Bay and Wellington, right in the downtown core there’s an installation there that he did over 20, 25 year ago, and it's fabulous. And then there are the big scale ones, like the James Turrell, it’s so fantastic to have one in Toronto. I remember the art consultant was saying that the construction crew were saying “What is this? It's just light and colour. That’s not art.” It's really more of not a trick but it's just something that's a little more subtle in some ways that I enjoy. But they're all my children. They're all my favourites.


    Interview conducted by Rosemary Heather on October 21, 2020 as part of Markham Public Art’s Becoming Public Art: Working Models and Case Studies for Art in Public, a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd. Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.

  • What is a Public Art Master Plan? - A Conversation with Helena Grdadolnik

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    16 Oct 2020
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    Parallel to the summit’s live sessions, we have commissioned a series of interviews with leading curators and public art consultants on: Public Art Master Plans; Development and Planning Tools; Public Art on Campus; and Public Art in Transit. The series will appear bi-weekly throughout the summit. In What is a Public Art Master Plan? Helena Grdadolnik talks to Rosemary Heather about her work with Markham to make a Public Art Master Plan for the city, providing insight into this complex process and what role the public plays in the process.

    Helena Grdadolnik is a Director at WORKSHOP, where she leads the studio’s urban design and cultural projects. In this interview, Grdadolnik talks about her work with Markham to draw up a Public Art Master Plan for the city, a process that involves extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders—including artists, the public, city officials and staff, and private developers. The Master Plan was approved in the Fall of 2019, with the followup Implementation Plan approved this past Winter. How public art gets made and who, in addition to the artist, makes decisions about where it gets built and the form it takes is often an opaque process. With experience that includes creating Public Art Master Plans for the cities of Kingston and Newmarket, Grdadolnik provides insight into this complex undertaking and what role the public can play in the process.


    What is a Public Art Master Plan?

    I think when people hear “Public Art Master Plan” they think members of the public would really be involved in its development—and you do want that input and feedback on the vision for the Public Art Master Plan. But really so much is tied to details of how a City works. There are three things in most Master Plans—they differ from one city to another—but basically they are: the goals of the program itself where public input is important, then there's the rules which, in City terms, are usually called policies, and there are the processes, like how things work in the city, who does what, who's responsible for what, where the money comes from, all that. So when you look through this kind of document, although it has a lot of nice pictures and diagrams, a lot of it is just kind of “city speak”—stuff the City needs to figure out for how it's going to run the program that crosses a lot of different departments. The task is to try to ensure quality and integrity in the decision-making process and make sure that who they're hiring is a professional artist who may challenge ways of thinking, not someone who is just decorating the landscape.

    So much of a Public Art Master Plan is inaccessible, or hard to understand because it involves the nitty-gritty of City work. One thing a master plan can do is set locations and budgets for a work. It’s disappointing when a master plan stops there—e.g., x marks the spot in five different locations in the city, and we're going to spend $200,000 here and $1,000,000 there—because I think that really limits the artistic process if you make all these decisions before you get an artist involved. In Markham, people in the city have helped us decide those locations. Another thing is to set out the main goals—like, what is the city trying to do, why even have public art? Also, you always have to figure out where the money's going to come from for a program, especially in the first couple of years, otherwise it's not going to happen.

    You might have heard of the Percent for Art Program? This stipulates that if you build a new building, one percent of the budget of that project is invested in an artwork on that site. Now, it could be that a good artwork gets made, but it also means that the work has to be in the location of a new building. It tends to be that new artworks appear in these locations where there is all this new development, and not necessarily where artists and community members might want to see new works.

    The typical process that many cities follow is to hire an artist through an open call asking for examples of their previous work. From there, three to five artists are shortlisted. At that point, the artists are each required to work out in detail a proposal for an artwork without getting a chance to have any meaningful dialogue with the communities, including with the public art curator for the City, and then one of the proposals is selected by a jury.

    This process is codified in a lot of City’s master plans as the only way to commission art. We have tried to move away from that and bring in more options for how to work with artists that better follow artistic practice and give opportunity to involve members of the public. Sometimes, yes it might be that open call, but other times it could be a curated process. In some cases, its by invitation because it's a very specific project. Other times, it could be you’re sending out a call where artists can propose what they’d like to do and where. I think Vancouver has a good example of that, with their artist-initiated program.


    Can you describe who the Public Art Master Plan is for?

    Ultimately, it should be for the people who live, work and go to school in Markham. That's the ultimate goal of any of these City plans. It’s not for the politicians, it's not for the people who work for the City and it's not for the artists. In some ways, it should support quality art and fair practices, so it is for artists in some ways, but it really ultimately is for the people; particularly, the Plan’s vision says local residents and visitors. So if you work in Markham but you live in Toronto, this plan should still work for you because it's making places that are interesting for you to go to, and which are free to see. At the same time, to make quality artworks, we need to make it work for artists and the way they work. I think many plans miss this element of understanding how artists work. That said, it is a different type of process for making a public art piece than in a gallery setting, different types of people will look at your work every day on their way to work, for instance. At the same time, why bother having a public art program if you have this process that just makes the resulting art super safe and you don't take any risks and you don't challenge people at all, and it's just decorative?


    Why would it be less desirable to have a public artwork that is just decorative?

    In terms of public art, do you want it to make you think? And do you want it to be more than a one liner of, say, oh that looks pretty. You don’t need artists involved to make something that's prettier or eye catching. You can do that in other ways, whether that’s through landscaping, or whether that's through building design, or the decoration on the outside of the building. The purpose of having an artist is to make you think a bit differently, to make you notice things. There's a term in public art called “plop art”, which has a negative connotation, and which is this idea of just putting a statue on the corner of a building site and calling it a day. It is put there with no attachment to the community, it doesn't really talk about anything about the site, you could have picked it out of a catalogue and then placed it there. I personally go back and forth on whether we should expect public art to be a more socially engaged process? Not always. But you need different ways to engage with how artists work if you're going to have a program that is not just about making visually appealing work. I think there's nothing wrong with something that is visually appealing, but it's not the only aim. If you have a lot of public art in the city, you’re not going to always love every piece, but hopefully you love some of them and they go beyond just looking good in an Instagram photo. And maybe some of them you don’t like at first, but then they grow on you over time.


    Part of the goal of a Master Plan is to get urban planners, developers, artists, elected officials and staff to be in alignment on the role public art can play in a city. Did you have input from any or all of these stakeholders when making your Master Plan?

    Yes. With a Master Plan, I might have personal ideas of what I think is best but my job is to work with all these different departments and stakeholders and listen and try to make sure that we are making a plan that's flexible and responds to the place. We had engaged the local developers that play a major role in development in the city, and the City’s urban planners, public realm and facilities staff were part of that process. It can be really hard because this document needs to balance and create consensus between a multitude of stakeholders. Then we also need to bring the public into moulding the plan’s vision and that can be challenging. But we did weave all of those voices and then try to make a workable plan. The first chapter in the Master Plan is the public art vision, which describes what the vision is, I’m reading: “Innovative Public Art will highlight the city’s unique characteristics and create new experiences and destinations through which local residents and visitors can engage with each other and the rich surroundings in Markham.”

    Basically we are saying that the public art will be specific to the city and will give people new experiences. Then you get into objectives, and you always have trouble crafting the exact wording to speak to so many different perspectives. Many of these professionals know planning policy and understand the ramifications of a single sentence in an official plan that could really make a difference to what is asked from a developer. We had a public workshop and we got people to literally cross out the words in the first draft that they didn't like and then we took the next draft to a public art advisory committee, which is mostly made up of residents in Markham, some of whom have art knowledge and some of whom don’t. They again picked through words and we went through a few more revisions. The vision sentence is always going to be aspirational and hard to pin down. The objectives need to get more tangible, (and again, I’m reading) to: Inspire people to live in, work in, visit and invest in Markham; Celebrate the diverse cultures and heritage in Markham from multiple points of view; and Connect residents to Markham’s built and natural environment. The plan states that every public art project needs to meet at least two of these objectives—to inspire, celebrate or connect. A work is not going to do all of these things every time; every piece of public art does not need to celebrate the diverse cultures of Markham, for instance. If you try to say it has to do all of these things every time you are getting to a weird point where the work does nothing. We can judge what an artist is developing based on these three things, but they don't have to hit every point in every work.

    The last element in the Master Plan vision is the Guiding Principles. There are seven of them and that's where you make sure, for instance, that there's quality control. One of these is “artistic excellence and innovation”. You want to make sure that you're not getting just any artists, but the best artists. Another one is “protecting artist integrity, copyright and fair pay”, which is needed to protect artists’ interests. This is needed because when budgets get tight, like they are right now, the City might be tempted to say “Well, we are using this artist we found who will do it for free”. Instead of paying an artist that is really well-respected, we're going to have this other person. So 1) that's not meeting artistic excellence, and 2) it’s not fairly compensating artists for their work. Other points of quality control are “meeting accessibility standards” or “geographic reach”—making sure that public artworks are not only located downtown. Those are the elements in the Master Plan that are probably the easiest for people to understand who are not in the art world or in the City policy world. This means that when a person is starting in the Public Art Curator position and starting a project with staff from other departments, it makes sure that there are standards and objectives that can be referred to, without this detail getting lost in a 50-page document.


    Did you have artist input on the plan?

    Yes. We worked with the York Region Arts Council and the Markham Arts Council. They had helped us circulate the invite to a public event, as well as working through the public art advisory. As well, we did get input from artists from Markham, but I would say the number of artists we spoke to wasn’t that large. I would say, it could be better. As part of our public workshop, we had local artists and other art patrons on a panel to talk about their perspective and give their thoughts as well as an artist who has worked a lot in public art and was commissioned for a piece in Toogood Pond Park, Mary Anne Barkhouse. She gave a great presentation in which she just talks about her perspective working on these projects, including what a city gets wrong in the process and how they could improve. There were a lot of people who work in city departments in the audience, so I think for them this was really helpful. So we had some artists that were engaged, though I would say that's where generally Master Plans could be better but, as I said, the plan is not for artists, so engaging them is not the primary focus. We were also really lucky to be working with the Varley Art Gallery, based in Markham, and Yan Wu, Markham’s Public Art Curator. They already work with artists and have a lot of processes in place for working with and commissioning artists.


    In a talk you gave you defined the goal of public art as “Letting you know that you're in Markham” I love this idea. Another way to say it is: You're creating landmarks. Do you strategize in this way so that you have a project that's created at such a scale that it is iconic for the city?

    No, every public art project doesn't have to be iconic, every project doesn’t need to do the same thing. At the same time, the City of Markham is pursuing a “gateway strategy” that means, for instance, you are driving on the highway and how do you know you've gotten to Markham? Their thinking is that public art is one of the ways that you can make this kind of gateway. The easiest way doesn’t involve art, you could just literally make a big sign that says “Markham”. So you could consciously have a public art project where part of the stated goal is that the work is a kind of signpost. But I don't think every project has to do this and I do think that some projects can do this in a subtler way, or that they aren’t intended as a symbol of a place, but become this over time. Ken Lum’s East Van sculpture, for instance, is a place maker that was a result of Vancouver’s artist-initiated public art program. The program wasn’t saying “We want a marker for East Vancouver, can you make one?” Ken Lum said he wanted to make a marker for East Vancouver and he decided where to put it. With a lot of other pieces, it's the other way around. I think of Angel of the North in Northern England at the edge of Newcastle, which is this Antony Gormley piece that was intentional in making a landmark. That's one thing you could do but there are other projects that I like that are just kind of quiet and almost hidden and small that maybe make you stop and notice something, redirect your attention to look on the ground. I personally tend to be less interested in the iconic pieces. I think they're easier to conceive but don’t always have the same level of depth or staying power.


    Recent trends are favouring more temporary works or digital screen based works. In your plan, do you make a recommendation for a balance between the two types, more traditional and the latter, and do you think temporary events like Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, for instance, could provide a model for Markham?

    In the Master Plan, we included a few relevant case studies from similar-sized cities to get people to visualize what could actually happen within a public art program. Surrey B.C. has a lot of similarities to Markham. It's a suburban community that is rapidly urbanizing but is close to a larger urban centre (in this case Vancouver) and it has a huge immigrant population who bring a different vision to the place and lots of good food. Surrey Urban Screens, for example, is a large screen on the side of a community centre featuring a rotating program of curated digital artworks. That was one suggestion we had for Markham as it bills itself as a “high tech capital”. The City has a lot of high-tech companies located there, which I hadn’t known before this project. So that was a question: Could they build on that branding? There were also many people we heard from living in the villages in Markham, who tend to want to mark the nineteenth century colonial heritage of the place. And we wanted to make sure that there's some balance that that's not the only thing that gets marked. We heard from other community members that they wanted to diversify the stories that are being told. And to tell the other stories that aren’t being told. There are segments that were very focussed on putting up monuments to the location’s heritage and see public art as only putting up these monuments. We also heard from people who were interested in looking at other aspects of the city. An example is the Rouge National Urban Park, it goes partially through Markham. National Park staff and non-profit Park People came to our meetings and brought the idea that, as the Trail Network is not complete, how do you make people know about the Park and when you are in it? Can you do something different that doesn't involve a monument? In the Master Plan, we used the Münster Sculpture Project as a case study example. Could you have an event, like Münster, that would build up a program of public art overtime, that was more focussed on the wider national or international arts community coming to the place, but that also would be of interest to the local population and leave a legacy?


    Thinking about the programming that Markham did over the summer, in a project called Delimit, people were invited to make a proposal for hypothetical artworks for sites in Markham, chosen partly by the public and partly by the curatorial team. There was no expectation that these would get built, which gave participants licence to dream big. Regardless, is there any chance that any of those projects could get made?

    I was involved in the jury. Yes, some could be built, but I don’t think they will be. I'm probably not the right person to ask, and it wasn't the intention that the City moves ahead with any of the projects. But I think the program was helpful, a lot of people have an idea about what public art looks like and this program had artists show people what different types of projects could look like, and the way artists think when considering a site. I think it was helpful in that respect, but I don't think any of them went through a feasibility study determining if they could work on a site. For instance, is there a manhole underneath or will the proposed connections harm a healthy tree? To make artwork in public spaces there is a lot to consider. Many of the proposals would be doable, like the idea for temporary projections onto the Town Hall, but others would need more development and changes to make them work. There was a nice mix of artwork proposed, and I feel if you showed people the range that everyone would find one that they would really like, and also other things that they didn’t or that weren’t what they're used to.


    You’ve worked on the Public Art Master Plan for a number of cities, including Kingston, and Newmarket, what was different about Markham compared to these other jobs?

    I would say the biggest difference is that Markham has someone, Yan Wu, who is the City’s Public Art Curator, and who is also working meaningfully in the art world. I think that's really helpful for a real understanding and grounding in not just City processes but also art-making practices. An individual in that role can really be key to connecting all the different players and communities that have to be involved in a public art project. I think that really was helpful in the process of going through the Public Art Master Plan and also for what happens next and how the program is implemented. The other thing is that Markham is a really interesting mix of small-town, heritage sites and newly developed urban form. It has a really unique mix and differs in how people expect a suburban city to operate when compared with some of the other GTA cities around it, of a similar size. This creates interesting prospects for its future, which is why it's important to make sure that the Master Plan makes recommendations to accommodate those different voices and perspectives.


    Interview conducted by art writer Rosemary Heather on September 24, 2020 as part of Becoming Public Art: Working Models and Case Studies for Art in Public, a nine-week virtual summit presented by the City of Markham in partnership with ART+PUBLIC UnLtd. Framed by current discussions happening at the intersection of contemporary art, public realm issues and urbanism, the summit features working models and case studies that address the challenges and opportunities faced by those working in this constantly evolving field.