Aug. 01, 2012 - Issue #876: The Art Of Serving
Of dirt and dreams
Dirt City | Dream City engages artists with a community on the verge of change
Dirt City | Dream City
Jasper Avenue, 95 – 96 St
full schedule available at dirtcity-dreamcity.ca
After eons of stasis, Edmonton's downtown is in flux, struggling to make up for lost time and woefully delayed infrastructure and urban design upgrades. While it is hopeful and positive change for this town, no action is without consequences. Revitalization goes hand in hand with gentrification. The Edmonton Arts Council's public, outdoor exhibition curated by New York artist and curator Kendal Henry, Dirt City | Dream City encouraged an art-facilitated exploration of a community on the verge of change. The Quarters, the new moniker given to a section of the Boyle McCauley neighbourhood around Jasper Avenue and 95th and 96th Streets, is intended to support a beautiful, historic, central area plagued with crime and homelessness to a large population of Edmonton's most disenfranchised.
The selection of work created by 15 local artists especially for the project all told a story about this troubled, yet important relationship between the outsider artist and the neighbourhood's residents. Nickelas "Smokey" Johnson's giant red wooden hand, which had bones protruding from its severed wrist, proved to be a poignant and accessible gift to the neighbourhood. Speaking to issues of displacement and violence, the work also managed to be a humble, welcoming gesture, its upturned palm being used as a resting place for neighbours and passers-by every time I saw it. The true success of the artworks in the show can be measured by how they were taken up by community members, but were also important modes of communication about the area for outsider art goers. Aaron Paquette's teepee and site for rest and healing, as well as Jes McCoy's interactive sculptures and failing obstacle course, had interactivity that was also actively taken up by the neighbourhood. It was great to see local artists successfully grappling with these challenging relationships, and proving that contemporary art can be for everyone. The exhibition proved that art can uniquely facilitate connection and understanding.
What remains troubling is that this project is the initial phase of redevelopment that will inevitably uproot some of our city's most vulnerable populations. Although artists often end up being placed as change agents who lead renaissances in rough neighbourhoods that result in pushing those in poverty further to the margins, let's hope that the revitalization is as self-aware and focused on respecting existing neighbours as the bulk of this unique and timely art exhibition is. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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