There will be public art outside Performing Arts Centre – and that’s about all we know. Deadline for submissions was Friday.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 14, 2012  For some, a Friday the 13th would be looked at a little askance and those who deal with the public or are expected to deal with the public, might ask themselves if this is a good time to make a statement.

Friday came and went and if you are into “art” you might have slipped over to Hamilton and taken in the Art Crawl along James Street North.  Your chances are much better than even that you would bump into someone you know from Burlington as you strolled along the street.  And “bumped into” was the operative word – the streets were packed and there was a really nice buzz.

I fully expected to jump into Jeremy Freiburger, who is the man behind much of what is happening in the art world in these parts.  He is a major force in Hamilton art circles and is doing almost all of the art business in Burlington that is being paid for with public funds.

His Cobalt Connects has the contract to oversee the juried selection for public art that will go in front of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.  Closing date for submissions was yesterday – no word yet on how many artists sent in their ideas.

Sometime in the not too distant future, before the Pier is completed perhaps, there will be a piece of public art in front of this building. Will it be something that people actually come to Burlington to see? Do we have it within us to choose art that is superb or will we get stuck with something provincial and dull. There are some very good people on the selection committee but the public isn’t hearing very much about the project. Maybe soon.


Freiburger said recently that there were 15 submissions and that he expected close to 50 submissions from artists as far away as Europe and South America by the April 13th deadline.

Cobalt Connect also has a contract to develop a Cultural Master Plan for Burlington.  That group is beavering away but not much has been heard – they’ve yet to settle on their communications plan – which in the language of bureaucrats means deciding how they will release and manage the flow of information.  Some call that “spin” – making the news work for the person putting out the news rather than seeing your role as a responsibility to inform. Answering direct questions and being available to media doesn’t appear to be part of the communications plan at this point in time.

We’ve exchanged emails with Freiburger during the past ten days.  He tells us that he is “media friendly” but he isn’t ready to talk about his “communications plan” until it has been approved and the day it is approved he isn’t going to be available.  He’s having lunch with the Governor General of Canada, which is a private event.

While the art itself was interesting the placement was a mistake. The BPAC patio is a great location - now to see what we get in the way of submissions. It's kind of exciting - let's keep the public in this loop.

Burlington isn’t comfortable with public art.  The city’s experience with the “orchids” on Upper Middle Road was not a pleasant one.  While the art itself has merit – the location was just plain stupid The decision to put the art in that location was made by people who used public money (actually it was Section 37 money) with almost no public input.  When the decision was announced on the location there wasn’t much of a public outcry.  The words “what?” or “are you kidding?” weren’t heard.  Part of the reason for that is Burlington citizens are still learning to use their voices.


The Shape Burlington report was very clear in its comment that the city suffers from an information deficit.  The public just doesn’t know what is being done – because the people doing the doing are not saying very much.

The BPAC people will use very close to $750,000 of public money during 2012.  We are into the second quarter of the year but the public has heard nothing on how many tickets have been sold and where things stand financially.  Heatherington did say that more than 30,000 tickets had been sold when she was at a city council committee pleading for additional funds for her 2012 program.  She got what she asked for.

The city of Burlington put a Strategic Plan in place last year and said they would review that plan and discuss progress – and guess what – they did.  There was a city council session that was devoted to reporting on what was working and what wasn’t working.  That’s the way people who are given funds by the public are supposed to behave.

Dan Lawrie, the CEO of an insurance company, put up a large part of the money being used to pay for the art that will go outside the BPAC, said recently that both he and Brenda Heatherington, Executive Director of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC)  feel a little awkward while they wait for the decision the jury will make on which submission will be chosen.

For Lawrie, one gets the sense that this is very much his baby and he wants to see something stupendous get selected.  But it isn’t his baby – the decision gets made by a group selected to do that job.  Those placed on the jury are well qualified people – one would hope.

Jeremy Freiburger, Chief Content and Cultural Strategist at Cobalt Connects heading up two major art projects in Burlington. Still learning how to communicate with us.

What’s missing from this dance is some music.  We have what we are told are very good people selecting what will get placed outside the BPAC – but at this point in time we’ve no idea what that will be, which is the whole idea behind an open juried competition.  We announce to the world what we want and let the artists out there decide if they think they can do something for us.   In a previous story we explained how all that will work.

It would just be nice, and the responsible thing for the people we have entrusted to do this work for us, to see a steady stream of information.  In a world with more than 1,000 television channels that carry mostly junk it would be nice to know who sent in some ideas.

Stay tuned while Cobalt Connects decides what kind of spin they want to put on the story.

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