Now the public gets to say what it wants – artists models for BPAC site on view at the library.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  September 11, 2012  After many months of keeping everything under wraps, Jeremy Freiburger finally opened the curtains and is letting the public see what the three Burlington judges have chosen as finalists for the public art that is going to stand in front of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

Burlington is slowly learning that if you want the public to buy into an idea – let them know what you are up to; ask their opinions and listen to what they have to say.

You can view models of the three finalists at the Central Public Library or see large photographs at City Hall and Tansley Woods – and that is about as far north as the public viewing will go.  Something for the city to look into – the people north of Upper Middle Road are just out of luck when it comes to knowing much about what goes on at city hall, unless they want to drive well outside their community

The currently unadorned Performing Arts Centre may soon get some public art.  The plans are to place the art in the small fore-court – shown in the right of this photograph.

Art is a very subjective thing.  Many people feel that they know what they like the moment they see it – and that is certainly true.  But taste is something that is developed; something that evolves over time.  That development takes place when you see and experience different forms and examples of art.  Some feel that public art should come from within the community – others feel the search should be world wide.

The judges are: Ian Ross, executive director of the Burlington Art Centre, Emma Quinn, executive director of the Ontario Craft Council, Trevor Copp, artistic director of Tottering Biped Theatre, Natalie Eldershaw, 4th-year Sheridan College art student.

The steering committee that oversaw the process included: Avery Brooks joiner – local youth involved in Culture, Dan Lawrie – project donor;  Brenda Heatherington – BPAC Executive Director, site stakeholder;  Mary-Ellen Heiman – member of BPAC Board and Denise Beard, Acting Manager of Community Development Services for the city of Burlington

The three finalists, chosen out of the 119 submissions to the Call for Submissions the city put out in March of this year, were asked to then create a small model and provide some detail on what they proposed to create.

Those models are now on display at the library on New Street

The project got its start when Burlington businessman Dan Laurie expressed an interest in sponsoring some public art that would be placed in front of the Performing Arts Centre, at the intersection of Elgin and Locust streets in downtown Burlington.  Laurie put up $37,500 of his own money and the city used $75,000 from its Public Art Fund

The Cooke-Sasseville submission, Stay Connected, is made of stainless steel; aluminum; powder-coat paint.  It is 15 feet high x 27 feet wide.

The Cooke-Sasseville submission is certainly the most colourfull of the three.  How will the bright colours stand up to weather over the long haul?

In explaining their submission Cooke-Sasseville had this to say:  “We are proposing the creation of a monumental and playful sculpture that stems from the idea of representing, on an exaggerated scale, a well-known, easily identifiable object that is closely tied to the performing arts: a technical console and connecting cables. Our proposal is visually striking and evocative in its usage of space and it will transcend the objects that it represents, becoming an almost abstract work that brings to mind both vegetation and the human circulatory system. The work will be firmly fixed to the ground and expand into space in a systematic manner, schematizing a perfectly orchestrated choreography where the notions of movement, exchange and transmission are represented.”

“The work that we are submitting suggests a never-ending openness towards the sky and it may be interpreted in many different ways, from the simple representation of everyday objects to the schematization of complex fractals. In doing this, we wish to glorify that which may seem banal but which is really essential, or that which is not seen but which plays a crucial role in the creation of major artistic productions: the technical side of the production as well as the importance of collaborations, human contact, encounters and communication.”

A scale model of the Cooke-Sassville submission.  These Quebec based artists have done a significant amount of public art work throughout North America.

The Peter Powning submission, Spiral Stella,  is to be made of stainless steel; cast bronze and stand 16 feet high and be 30 inches wide.

The Spiral will be 16 feet tall and include in the bronze casting artifacts from the community that could well make this one of the most intriguing pieces of art in the city.

Powning explains his submission this way: “My intent with this proposal is to produce an iconic sculpture of scale that has impact from a distance but which also provides an intimate experience up close. I propose a sculpture that offers an opportunity for discovery, an enhanced sense of local identity, and education opportunities; a community touchstone honouring Burlington and the Performing Arts Centre; its history, natural environment, culture and identity. A key element of this project will be community participation in providing important cultural and historical artifacts to include in the cast bronze spiral. I think of this bronze relief as cultural mulch, incorporating artifacts from the historical to the contemporary.”

“The elements I will be working with are meant to balance content and form in a dynamic approachable sculpture. The obelisk will reflect the sky, patterns of cloud and ambient light, changing hues as the day progresses, the cast bronze provides visual and textural contrast as well as an intimate tactile experience. The formal obelisk shape organizes the various parts of the sculpture in a unified, recognizable whole. In close proximity, it reveals a material richness with layers of cultural content gathered from the people and institutions of Burlington in cast bronze relief. From a distance, this monumental sculpture will be visible as a landmark.”

The section that appears in blue is the part within which the artist will include local artifacts.  No one knows at this point what will be included if this submission is chosen – but if it is chosen – expect everyone in the city to come up with something – it’s going to be out there for everyone to see for at least 50 years – perhaps forever.

What doesn’t become immediately evident in the artists comments is that the people of Burlington will contribute a large part of the Spiral – and he has no idea what the public contribution will be.  Somehow, what people want to see included in the spiral will get to the artist who will include it in the final structure.  That could be very informative and certainly reflect the community.

Aaron Stephen calls his submission In the Round which will be made of cast zinc alloy; architectural zinc sheet and have a diameter of 28 feet.

The In the Round submission is far more complex, and intriguing, than evident in this picture.  That globe graphic is made up of more than 15,000 small figurines.  Interesting approach but the location and the height of the art will need some consideration.

“In the Round”, says the artist, “is composed of over fifteen thousand small human figures traversing the wall of Burlington Performing Arts Centre’s fly tower. Each three-inch metal figure interacts in a unique way. Some mill about, some talk, walk, or just look around – simply depicting a crowd of individuals interacting as we do in everyday life. From a distance the minutia of this crowd disappears while a larger whole becomes apparent. Each individual figure acts as a pixel defining the collective image of a twenty-eight foot world globe.”

“Anyone who has attended a live performance has experienced the curious moments that immediately precede the actual event. In the lobby, crowds mill around and everyday conversation takes place. There is a unique energy in the air that can only be described as communal anticipation. The evening takes a turn as the performer(s) appear on stage. In a brief moment, what previously seemed to be a haphazard group of audience members becomes a single entity.”

“Like the distinctive beginning of a live performance, In the Round encompasses the same feeling of anticipation, movement, and energy. It represents the moment in which the community of Burlington becomes fully engaged and implicated with those on stage.”

Examples of the more than 15,000 figurines that will be used to shape a graphic of the globe in the In the Round submission.

The “official”  illustration doesn’t do justice to this submission.  That it will be at the back of the theatre is a limitation.  What is shown in the official picture is a graphic of the world – what you don’t see is the 15,000 little  figures that will make up the globe.

All three submissions have merit.  Several are unique in the approach they use to involve the person looking at the art.

The city has asked the public to “Tell us what you think!” and have provided a place on the city web site for comments on all three pieces of art.  Log into WHERE and tell the city what you think.  If you can – get over to the Library, and look at the maquettes (fancy word artists use when they really mean to say a model of what they have in mind)

There are also ballot like forms upon which people can write their comments.

The judges will review the comments and come to a final decision.  That final decision doesn’t have to be the selection of a specific piece of art.

The three judges chose three submissions – they could have chosen five or ten but there wasn’t enough money in the budget to give every artist the $1500 grant to prepare the model.

Once the judges go over all the comments they will decide which of the three submissions should become the art that will be placed outside the Performing Arts Centre. The judges do not have to choose one of the three finalists – the decision they make will depend on the public feedback.

The challenge for the judges is – are they going to lead public opinion and help shape it or are they going to follow public opinion.  Attempting to lead public opinion in Burlington is not always a rewarding endeavor.

If public opinion is strongly against any of the three submissions the judges can decide  that none of the three put forward is what the public wants.  What do they do then – and why were just three of the 119 submissions selected?

The selection process had two parts to it.  First review everything that came in and then invite the three the judges thought were the best and ask them to prepare a model of what they were proposing.  Each artist was given $1500 to build their mode.  There wasn’t enough in the budget they had to work with to invite more than three.

This is the second major public art project for Burlington.  The “orchids” ,done by Irish artist Alex Pentek, were liked by many – but just as many couldn’t understand why it was placed in the middle of  busy Upper Middle Road, where it is extremely difficult to see the art as you duck under the railway overpass.  Very poor location.

The Performing Arts Centre is seen as a prime public site and with the right art it will be something people will come to see; providing the city selects what the public is prepared to accept.

Make a point of getting to the library to look at the models.  And let the city know what you like and don’t like – and add why you like what you see as well.











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2 comments to Now the public gets to say what it wants – artists models for BPAC site on view at the library.

  • Neil

    Oh how wonderful, “we” the public “now” get to choose what piece of art to buy for the birds to call home. I am so excited, i get to retire my wooden bird house that i build 3 years ago using left over pieces of wood from a friends fence. The birds are now moving out of their apartment into a upscale condo rent free!

    This “Public Art” program is what I call a” make work project”. The art may cost so much at first, but then no one is thinking about the fact that City staff are now going to have to remove nests, paint and just general up keep of the “art”, so instead of it costing $15,000 it will end up costing taxpayers a lot more. – just like the Orchids, a unsightly waste of taxpayers money!

    And yet again, the City continues to fund “make work projects” without thinking about the final cost. The money in that fund should be used for more useful projects, not for the birds!

  • Seems to me we all need a bit more clarification about the very real distinction between ‘art’ and ‘design’.

    Here’s a very good essay, worth thinking about.

    Likewise, it may be instructive to give a little thought to an increasingly obscure idea, that of ‘beauty’.

    As in, wouldn’t we all rather LOOK at a ‘beautiful object’ as we meander around the Centre? Wouldn’t we PREFER to SEE something inspiring? Something that provokes a kind of kinetic and, dare I say, spiritually ‘uplifting’ response?

    To my way of thinking, all three designs as presented, have too much abstract ‘mind-fulness’ and not enough ‘soulfulness’ or ‘heart’.

    Any living performance, if nothing else, is all about a soulful GIVING heart.

    And that really is a beautiful thing.