On Saturday June 24th, at 3:00pm Councillor Marianna Wilkinson, AOE Arts Council Executive Director Victoria Steele, artist Margit Hideg and the Beaverbrook Library staff welcomed Kanata and greater Ottawa community for the grand unveiling of the “The Wisdom of Trees” community arts installation which is made from more than 150 pieces of art made by members of the Beaverbrook Library and staff of Kanata based businesses: YouiTV, Thinkwrap, Martello and Ericsson. After a meditation on the symbolic parallels of trees in forests and human individuals in communities led by Margit, participants took time to reflect on their Canadian identity: in thought and appreciation of themselves, their culture and family roots. They then designed a triangular mylar piece with paint markers in a way they felt visually depicted their identity within their community.
The installation fit the spirit of the library: it is vibrant in colour, casual, playful brings to unity many ununiform pieces representing people of all ages, backgrounds and occupations.
In this blog, Margit reflects on what she learned through the making of this installation.
How have you changed as a person as an artist after this experience?
This project has gave me a much richer definition of my role as an artist as more of a “the citizen artist”. It is art by the public and the artist, and might well be laying the groundwork for a paradigm shift in how we view art and artists in our culture.
Through collaboration the art is moved out of the museum/gallery and into the spaces of daily life. During the process I’ve empowered myself together with participants through their work.
Artists have experienced the isolation of small, specialized audiences and the pressure to do more accessible work.
As more and more of me commit to community projects, my work is raising critical questions about the role of the artist in these projects and about the exact timing of the artistic act. Depending on the situation, sometimes as an artist I was restricted to the role of facilitator—apparently submerging my own identity, expertise, training and talent into the collaborative action of the group. In the group, the art is taken in a new directions, the original idea is challenged – that can be hard to let go of as an artist, but this project has helped me see the value in letting the idea be dynamic through the group’s progress.
What are some key points you learned?
- In all participatory approaches, it is important to ask who the participates are. Power relations matter within all communities, and some groups or individuals always have a louder voice than others.
- I grew stronger in my project management and budgeting skills
- The way people learn to work together on one project it is an example of how a community can work together in a strong effective, peaceful manner. Everybody had a chance to express themselves. Isn’t it astonishing that a large work of art can be created in such a short time when people work together?
- Collaboration is the key in this new work. Because one of the primary goals of most community-art projects is to address social questions, this project included thinking in fields like social work too. I saw the library as such as important player in a healthy neighborhood.
How was this similar to other collaborative projects you have done?
- Community art projects allow audiences different ways to engage with and experience the art work through installations that are often site-specific and make use of objects and ideas from the communities. Some of my collaborative projects combine participatory action research with art production.
- Community and collaborative arts practices: bring people together; foster trust between participants and increasing their generalized trust of others; produce a source of pride for residents in their community, increasing their sense of connection to that community.
- Community events inspire, heal groups of people, through the production of commonly shared stories and representations. A community cannot be a community without a shared project.
- Engagement in community arts activities contribute to personal and social development, help people to feel better and healthier and build new skills and knowledges,
- Social benefits include enhanced connections and networks, improved local image, stronger sense of place, identity and heritage.
- Local regeneration: changes in perceptions of place, increased confidence and stronger relationships between community and government.
What was something that stuck you at the actual unveiling?
The realization, that the final installation no longer represents my own signature and it has a collective ownership.”
Margit sought to encourage the community of Kanata to reconnect with themselves, each other and the nature around them with this project and the installation unveiling was a satisfying afternoon in the library were the realization of these goals was palpable. Guests at the unveiling circled the hanging structure in the library seeking out the piece that they had made and shared with each other their reasoning for drawing what they did. One participant found hers and explained to her friends:
“I don’t feel like an artist as much as I am a photographer. I drew a leaf because it was a picture that I had took not too long before I came to the workshop. I focused on the veins within the leaf in my photograph, and my mylar art piece.”
The guests also poked around the installation, pointing out to each other pieces that struck them as unique or impressed them for different reasons. The unveiling party was a time that everyone involved shared their appreciation for each other’s help throughout the project and their appreciation for the new relationships they formed as their art pieces hung knitted together in the background.