Monday, September 8, 2014

Art and Wellness: Community Partnerships

The current issue of Muse includes an article by Shirley Madill focusing on the relationship of "Art and Wellness." Madill's piece focuses on the role of museums and art galleries in communities, the connection of arts and health, and the wellness benefits associated with public engagement in the arts.

She argues that "Investment in the arts produces important social benefits that have a strong positive impact on both individual and community health."  Madill includes examples of numerous Canadian initiatives that highlight the collaborative partnerships between health organizations and art institutions.

For example, The Art for Healing Foundation aims to bring art into hospitals and other care facilities as a means of creating inspiring, peaceful, and beautiful environments for patients and healthcare workers.  Since 2002 the Foundation has been responsible for installing over 8000 works of art in institution across Canada.

The integration of artwork into hospital settings can also be seen at the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg and their decision to to open the Buhler Gallery in 2007.  Located within the Hospital the Buhler Gallery has seen over 75,000 people visit the space with more than a third of the visitors being hospital patients. The Gallery has successfully created a welcoming reflective space for visitors and highlights the intersection of art and healing. 

In addition to hospital based art programs, Madill also highlights the benefits of programming created by community galleries that is geared toward people dealing with health issues.  The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, where Madill works, partnered with the local Alzheimer Society to create a "Gather in the Gallery" program.  The programming focuses on engaging Alzheimer patients and their caregivers within the gallery space.  Current in it's fourth year this program has been seen as a success by the gallery, Alzheimer Society and its participants.

Overall Madill's work reminded me a lot of the Journey Women exhibit I was able to be part of in 2014 that focused on using art based healing to create 'body maps' which reflected personal healing experiences.  The article also made me think about the potential within in many museums and galleries to collaborate with health based organizations.  There are tremendous opportunities for engagement, public outreach, and the creation of new programming that is beneficial to both communities and galleries.

If you're interested in the intersection of art and health I recommend checking out the September/October 2014 issue of Muse as it contains Madill's excellent piece and others focusing on the role of museums and galleries in health.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Community Conversations and Libraries

Earlier this week I attended a music night at my local public library.  The night featured a couple of local musicians as well as Tenpenny Bit a traditional music group from out of town.  The evening was free to attend (but a number of people did give small donations), included a couple of hours of good music, conversation, and snacks.  The event was well attended and made me think about the relationship between libraries, art, and communities.

When I first moved to Northern Ontario I remember being baffled by the fact that the library wasn't open all the time.  The town I grew up in wasn't huge but it had enough people and funding to support a large library with great hours.  The library in the community I live in now is only open 29 hours a week but still manages to offer a range of programming.

In the past year the library has hosted a handful of small art shows and music nights.  The art shows and displays have featured works by local artists and the music nights have highlighted both local and visiting talent. The events bring people into the library that might not normally visit and provide a needed creative venue within the community.

The most recent music night also highlighted the idea of libraries as community spaces and places of conversation.  Most businesses in our small town close at 6pm.  But the library is open from 7-9pm four nights a week. The library also has a visible presence in the local paper, community nights, and local events. This presence might be as simple as offering hot chocolate and cookies during the winter 'midnight madness' event to encourage people to step into library.  The local library is an integral part of the community and actively works to engage locals outside of traditional library programming. 

I like the idea of libraries as being flexible spaces of engagement where patrons can engage with knowledge, arts, and community.  Books bring people together.  But so do free cookies, music nights, and children's programming.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Contested Public History and Public Engagement

The Spring 2014 issue of The Public Historian focused on contested histories, addressing controversy through public history, and the relationship of controversy and commemoration.  Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins' piece "Engaging the contested Memory of the Public Square, Community Collaboration, Archaeology, and Oral History at Corpus Christi's Artesian Park" is an excellent example of the challenges and potential benefits of tackling contested histories, issues of identity, and public input.

The article uses the case study of Corpus Christi's Artesian Park to highlight the potential of using community engaged methods and collaborative designs that integrate oral history, archaeology, and archival research to build historical narratives.

The history of the Artesian Park and its commemoration has been filled with controversy.  In 1975 and 2002 attempts to commemorate the the park were filled with community disputes, disagreements of interpretation, and debated history.

In 2012 a public archeology and oral history project was launched in the community to focus on expanding historical narratives relating to the Park.  The project highlighted the possibility of creating a new narrative that combines personal histories, civic history/myth, and national narratives.  And the results showed the diversity in experiences and histories relating to the park. 

Christine Reiser Robbins and Mark W. Robbins' argue that "engaged public history frameworks that are community driven and incorporate multiple methodologies can be a 'source of empowerment' in the pursuit of more open and contested cultural heritage."  This project was open to all segments of the community which allowed for a range of participation and an increased understanding of the community itself and the history of the park.  The project also allowed for "new relationships to the place and to the community to be formed."

This case study is a great example of the importance of community participation, collaboration, and the integration of multiple narratives into historical interpretation.  The long held nostalgic civic histories of the Park represent only a portion of the complete heritage of the Artesian Park.  Community collaboration and community input is crucial when addressing heritage the is contested and deeply community rooted.  Public history projects have the potential to bring together communities and start conversations relating to heritage and broader community issues.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Walking Tours and Public Art in Chicago

Four Seasons, Chagall.
I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the seventh post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

While researching things to do in Chicago I came across the itinerary for a self guided walking tour of public art in the Loop area of Chicago.  The tour includes 21 different public art pieces as well as recommendations of additional buildings and sights to see along the way.

There was lots of other public art to take in just walking around the city on a daily basis.  The city of Chicago has a vibrant public art program which include over 700 works found in over 150 municipal properties in the city.  So it's hard to not see at least some of the public art. Details on the Public Art Program and highlights from the public art collection can be seen here.

I've done a number of guided tours in other cities but never a self guided tour. The walk was a good
Chicago Picasso
experience. There was only one or two instances where the directions on the guide weren't terribly clear.  And we explored parts of the city and artwork we might have otherwise overlooked.

A couple of my favourites stops along the tour were the Chicago Picasso sculpture, the Four Seasons mosaic mural by Chagall, and the Town-Ho's Story by Frank Stella.

While visiting the Art Institute of Chicago earlier in the week the small exhibit focusing on public art spoke about the controversy that surrounded the Chicago Picasso when it was installed as the first large scale public art piece in the downtown. It was nice to be able to see it in person and being used as a giant slide by children.

Town-Ho, Frank Stella.
The amount of work that must have went into Four Seasons by Chagall amazed me. The 70ft long mural is made up of thousands of pieces of coloured glass and stone. The mural depicts seasons and landscapes of Chicago.  The work includes pieces of Chicago brick that was added by Chagall after the work arrived in the city. Four Seasons was donated to Chicago in 1974.  In 1994 work was done on the mosaic to restore the piece after and a protective canopy was added in an attempt to shield the work from exposure to the elements.

Frank Stella's Town-Ho Story is located in the lobby of the Metcalfe Federal Building.  The 18 foot high metal sculpture is named after a chapter in Moby Dick and it part of larger series by Stella relating to the book. There has been numerous complaints and controversy surrounding this work with many people calling it a 'pile of garbage', 'not art', 'metal scrap', etc.

One of the nice things about exploring public art in a self guided tour is the ability to spend as much time at a work as you want, to take time to see other sites not included in the tour, and the option of setting your own pace.  This particular self guided tour involved a fairly lengthy walk but made for an enjoyable day exploring the city.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the sixth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

Photo credit:
While exploring the waterfront on our first day in Chicago we ended up at Navy Pier.  The flashiness, cheesy feel, and crowded nature of the Pier didn't appeal to me all that much.  But, there is a quiet hidden gem amongst all the children running around.

Autumn landscape, Tiffany Studio. Credit:
The Smith Museum of Stained Glass features over 180 stained glass windows in the lower level of Festival Hall.  The Museum opened in 2000 and is the first museum in the US dedicated to stained glass windows.  Many of the windows in the collection were originally installed in residential, commercial, and religious buildings in the Chicago area.  The windows range in age from 1870 to present and highlight a range of artistic styles. Some of the more modern pieces include a window created from pop bottles and a portrait of Michael Jordan. A PDF catalogue of the stained glass window collection can be found here

The Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass features prominently within the larger Smith Museum.  The Driehaus Gallery features 13 windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany.  The Tiffany windows are showcased in a dark portion of the Museum and are lit with artificial light.  The visual effect is well done and makes these windows standout amongst the rest of the of the Smith Museum collection.

The Smith Museum was an interesting surprise.  Typically stained class is preserved in religious building or privately owned homes.  Having the collection in such a public tourism place where visitors can walk right up to the glass is unique. I've never seen so much stained glass in one place.  The Museum has done a good job of contextualizing each window and preserving the windows in a way that is accessible.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ethel Stein Master Weaver Exhibit

Ethel Stein. Portrait, 1999. Art Institute of Chicago.
I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the fifth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite exhibits during my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago was Ethel Stein, Master Weaver.  Located down in the basement of the Institute the exhibit included drawloom weavings created by Stein from 1982 through 2008.  This retrospective exhibition includes over 40 works that have either been donated to the Art Institute or have been promised as future gifts.


I was blown away by the detail in Stein's work, the complexity of the weaving, and the thought behind each piece.  Weaving at the most fundamental level seems like a very simple artisan craft.  But the drawloom technique that allows for each warp thread to be controlled separately has tremendous potential for creativity, complexity, and skill.  Some of Stein's work does at first glance appear uncomplicated but works like Portrait and Circus and Slapstick by Stein illustrate the artistic process and elaborate nature of her work.

In addition to the textile works by Stein the exhibit space includes a video installation.  The video shows Stein working in her studio and provides insight into the labour intensive, detail orientated nature of her work. For me the video also highlighted the vision, math, accuracy, and planning required to execute textile works on the scale the Stein has.  A copy of the short video can be viewed here.

The exhibition is located on the Lower Level of the Art Institute and is a bit out of the way.  But it is definitely worth the effort to find the one elevator that gets you down there.