This month, I officially became a citizen member of the City of Thunder Bay’s Public Art Committee. It’s a two-year term of monthly meetings, intended to help discuss and inform matters related to public art in Thunder Bay.
I don’t have time for this. I run a business, I have two kids and a spouse, I have my own personal activities that are important to me, and I try to be present in other activities that maintain my professional profile in the city. I’d even like to do a little teaching this Fall and Winter term.
But I’m doing it anyway.
By way of my academic and artistic past, I’ve become aware of the intersections between cultural expression and social good. Specifically, I believe that there is a critical role that cultural, artistic expression plays in how individuals and communities understand themselves and the world around them; art, therefore, must be a part of our every day experience, something that we should not have to seek out but rather by which we are confronted and with which we must interact.
So, naturally, I’d been wondering about how I can contribute to local cultural enrichment, since it’s what I think needs to happen. If I’m going to participate in my community in some meaningful way with what limited time and energy I have, this was the area in which it was going to have to happen.
However, I’m not an artist, or an active musician or writer; I’m not producing these things that I think are so important to our cultural identity. So the question became: how?
In recent years, there have been exciting, progressive policy developments in Thunder Bay, including the adoption of the Inspire Thunder Bay Culture Plan, the creation of the Clean, Green, and Beautiful committee, the creation of the various Cultural Advisory committees, the Waterfront development projects, and so much more. All of this is happening at a time in Thunder Bay’s history when we are seemingly transitioning from a solely resource-based economy and culture to one that is more ‘knowledge-based’, a transition that has entailed some intentional planning on the city’s part to provide a foundation for this to occur and take root.
So it’s a very exciting time to be involved in thinking and directing how and what this new foundation looks like.
But that’s not why I joined.
About a year ago, a large commission was installed at the waterfront which cost just under $1 million. Naturally, there was public outcry, some of it very sharp; some people didn’t like the installation itself; some didn’t like that it was created by a non-local artist; some felt that was too much money to be spent on art, period; some thought the money should have been spent on more ‘present’ needs, such as housing or food subsidies for those in need; some thought city council wasn’t showing proper leadership in approving this installation without public input.
In observing these complaints — which I will address in another post — a few things became apparent to me: Thunder Bay actually has a public art committee (I did not know this); I have a privileged point of view about art, meaning that most people don’t understand the purpose of art — specifically public art — in the same way that others, like I, do; many people simply don’t have a functional understanding of how art funding and commissions work.
Seeing these misunderstandings and wanting to address them, and seeing that there is a formal opportunity in the Public Art Committee to direct and promote public art in Thunder Bay, I became resolved to do what I could to join the committee. It’s where I saw myself having the most value with what little time and energy I have to contribute.
So, I applied.
A year later, I’ve been accepted as a public member. It also happened, at my first meeting, that I was acclaimed as Chair, i.e. the committee was in dire need of a chair, and no one else could fulfill the role. So, now, I have additional responsibilities beyond just attending the monthly meetings; but that’s fine with me. I love seeing the ways in which the city’s planning and operations are becoming tied together by a unified vision; and I like adding my voice to the conversation in a way that’s meaningful.