community art interview

Can you describe your art practice? Have there been any major changes/shifts in your practice since you started?

My practice has always been fluid. As a professional artist, I can function as a community arts practitioner, arts educator, and curator. In the 80s, I was involved in a number of solidarity groups in creating art that addressed issues of human rights, not necessarily from my own experience. With the Red Tree Collective in the 90s, I became more involved in collaborative art-making, and began to combine my participatory research and education experience with art-making. The main motivations were issues of authenticity of experience and the opportunity to reach people hands-on. In projects like Never Again, I worked with the Guatemalan community in Toronto in the building of a monument using clay tiles. The monument is dedicated to the victims of Guatemala’s dictatorship in the eighties. In another project with the Red Tree Collective called Birds of a Feather, I worked with a housing co-op to build a permanent multi-media bas-relief mural, which is permanently installed on the corner of Primrose Avenue and Davenport. 

My studio practice now continues to be influenced by political concerns, but my imagery demonstrates more of an academic distance and gives more weight to formal and material properties. I started paying attention to the craft inherent to certain materials, the materials’ origins and purpose in nature.

As an “artist” or a “curator”, what do you see is your role in community arts projects?

Community art practice is similar to participatory research in that it works toward a shared outcome as defined by all involved. My goal in community art projects is to facilitate a creative process that gives artistic form to the content provided by a community group.

What are the major difficulties of being a community artist in Ontario? 

The major difficulties are: lack of continuity in funding, and disappointment for participants due to the “project-to-project” nature of the grant cycle. This also can be a challenge for the artists, as they can experience burn-out due to administrative burdens associated with the project-to-project existence. 

Another challenge is the lack of access to public institutions such as community centres, schools, libraries with space for studio or presentation and equipment. 

Lastly, there is the dilemma of working in the community and to be accepted as an equal with the rest of the art world. I find it difficult to reconcile the lack of recognition awarded to professional artists who aim to engage non-artists in contemporary artistic exploration. There is a clear benefit to participatory art practices, especially now when art classes are not offered in many schools.

Are you currently working on, or have recently finished a community-engaged/community arts project? Can you tell us about the project and the role/s you played in it?

My most recent community art project is Steeltown Views, with a group of OPIRG McMaster students and staff. I worked as the facilitator and one of the artists doing collagraphs with the group, and I also applied for funding, and coordinated the exhibition at Centre3 for Print and Media Arts. The imagery that we used explores the natural and built environments through interpretations of waterfalls, parks, streets, paths, landmarks and architecture.

What challenges have you experienced when working with communities, and how did you overcome them? 

It can be challenging when a group wants to take a direction that deviates significantly from what the grant application specified. In my experience, artists usually add more than one workshop to the schedule in order to assure that all participants get results that satisfy their own expectations.