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Who was involved, why and how?

July 3, 2011

In the section titled ‘What motivated this project?‘, I mentioned my desire to flatten hierarchies by increasing opportunities for people to provide input and make decisions. This isn’t something I hoped would just be reflected in the project, it is something I hoped would be ingrained in the project’s very development. I therefore solicited active involvement from others in the community with expertise in diverse fields including culture, social work, urban studies, political science, economics, and rhetoric and communications, among others. And when it came to finding project partners, I put as much effort into extending invitations.

Artists were invited to participate based on a three-part process intended to keep the potential for contribution as wide as possible, thus moving beyond my own assumptions and curatorial control, while increasing the range of community issues that might be considered through the project. The process was structured as follows:

  • First, I conducted the usual curatorial research methods to connect with a few national and international artists/artist-teams, such as reading about past exhibition and intervention projects, as well as posts about artists’ works on a range of blogs and other electronic resources.
  • Next, I contacted Urban Shaman: Contemporary Aboriginal Art and invited them to co-select an artist or collective to be involved in the project, with the understanding that the artist would select a theme of interest. In the end, and somewhat unexpectedly after considerable discussion, we decided to engage Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women Action Group, a group that contacted us through the open call described below.
  • Finally, I held an open call for a local artist by inviting interested parties to contact me and explain why they would like to participate, identify the civic issue they wanted to address, and give examples of past experience partnering with community groups. Realizing this type of artistic practice is not entirely common in Winnipeg, I emphasized intent over experience, thus welcoming participation by an artist who sincerely wanted to be involved in a non-hierarchical collaborative art-making experience, even if she/he had never had a chance to do so before.

Realizing that there was still room for one more artist, I went back through my preliminary research and contacted Kristin Nelson, as I was aware of the spectrum of issues she has explored in her past work about urbanism (i.e. her parking lot project, as well as her collaboration with Suzy Smith for Art Building Community that addressed the high number of abandoned homes in West Broadway). After detailed discussion, Kristin agreed to participate and selected the topic of accessibility.

The scope of community organizations with which this project sought and initiated relationships was a reflection of the open, community spirit that drove the process. I was, and remain, deeply motivated to emphasize the creative and intellectual capacity of artists to contribute to society as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and bridge-builders. The project thus aimed to encourage individuals and communities not already involved in the arts to work with artists in finding new ways of expressing themselves through creative and mutually respectful public discourse. It was therefore about more than protesting—it was about speaking with others using alternate forms of language. My hope was that participants would feel collective ownership over the decision-making process leading to the development of each project, and that these engagements would contribute to the formation of lasting relationships between the art world and other communities, and between people of different communities.

Conceptual planning for the project began in 2007, and was put on hold due to competing obligations. When the opportunity arose in 2009 to begin thinking about the project again, I contacted Art City, knowing that one of their core activities involves the pairing of professional artists with local youth to produce works of art, while simultaneously developing critical thinking and leadership skills. Following enthusiastic conversations, we agreed that the best issue for our young audience to explore would be recreation and culture, since young people have ideas about the subject and would enjoy creative opportunities to express them. Inge Hoonte, an artist from the Netherlands then living in New York, was proposed as the appropriate artist to work with both youth and adults, and after discussions with the artist we collectively agreed that she would also hold a separate workshop with adult community members on the same topic.

Inspired by the socially-engaged work of Australian artist, Deborah Kelly, whose work addresses a range of topics including sexual diversity, gender, and immigration, I contacted Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art and the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg to enquire if they were likewise interested in her practice. The answer was yes and we proceeded to work together in order to bring Deborah to Winnipeg.

Another partnership took place with Video Pool Media Arts Centre, who generously offered in-kind support of video equipment rentals and editing suite time to facilitate any video-related work that participants wished to produce through the course of the project. Video Pool also provided access to its studio as a gathering space for participants in the sessions on accessibility

With the partner organizations and participating artists set, it was time to connect with other types of community groups whose members might not encounter information about the project through the usual art channels. I contacted a wide range of groups both directly and through an extensive list of contacts, and those most interested in being involved in a formal sense included: the Rainbow Resource Centre, Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, The Winnipeg Citizen’s Coalition, Art from the Heart, and the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association. I had many phone conversations and meetings with other types of community service groups, and a fair number of them were keen to pass on information about the project to their networks. Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women Action Group further disseminated details about SUSO via their contacts with the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union and Amnesty International.

All events were open for anyone to join, and the range of interested participants included people from all parts of the city and with many diverse interests. To access the schedule of events, please click here. To read about the various projects that were imagined and undertaken throughout the course of this project, please click here.

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