You will be able to see the art chosen this time. Exterior art at BPAC to be unveiled same month as Pier in 2013 Can we handle this?

 By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 9, 2012   After putting up a rather decent piece of public art in a place where no one gets to see it as they drive by, the city of Burlington is going to take a stab at getting it right this time.  At a city budget meeting most members of council referred to the Orchids now on Upper Middle Road just east of Appleby Line, as a “lesson learned”.

There is a new group behind the public art process and the hope is they will bring their considerable expertise to this second time around“ for the city as far as public art is concerned.

Not much of a public turnout for this unveiling.

The city hired CoBALT CONNECTS,   they used to be the Imperial Cotton Centre for Public Art, to oversee and administrate the selection of public art in the city.  The city put a chunk of money into the art program budget and moved very quickly to announcing that the next location would be the exterior of the Performing Arts Centre.  With the location issue of out the way, the community can now focus on who is chosen to do the art work.

All public art competitions will be evaluated by an independent jury of practicing arts professionals, community members and (when required) technical experts.  If you would like more information about the jury process or would like to be considered for future jury positions contact

Professional artists are invited to submit Expressions of Interest to create a permanent public artwork for the exterior of Burlington Performing Arts Centre. This competition is open to all Canadian and International artists and artist-led teams. Click for a copy of the application  form.

Because art is such a personal thing, and because so few people have the training or the experience to know good art when they see it, and because in a city the size of Burlington (any city for that matter) the more powerful people then to get their sticky fingers into the selection of anything that has to do with the “arts”,  Burlington wisely chose a third party with the intriguing name  CoBALT Connects  to manage the process.

They recently put out a document requesting an Expression of Interest from the arts community.  This is basically the first filter of names,  but a rather rigorous one,  that weeds out people who are not really qualified.  `Qualified ‘has been a bit of a problem for Burlingtonians so to make it crystal clear for those who have a disposition to complain CoBALT sets out what they mean by an artist: A professional artist is an individual who has specialized skills and/or training in his/her artistic discipline (not necessarily in academic institutions), has a history of public presentation and is critically recognized as an artist.

That definition does shut out the wild and wooly abstract artists who have yet to be recognized but Burlington was never going to mount that level of art anyway.  The definition CoBALT is working from sets a very acceptable standard.  It means your uncle who has done some really wonderful work on tree trunks with his chain saw is not going to qualify.

There is a well-oiled communications network used by the artistic community to spread the word on where the opportunities are.  With Expressions of Interest due April 13,  that does though preclude any advertising in the “arts” publications.   One assumes CoBALT knows how to get the word out to the artistic community.  If they don`t like what they see in terms of Expressions of Interest they can, one assumes, delay and extend the time line.

The art work has to be responsive to the architecture of the building it is going to sit in front of and at the same time capture the sense of anticipation, movement and energy that is part of a live performance.

Whenever people talk about doing something in the downtown core the word vibrant gets slipped in.  Saying we have a downtown core isn’t  going to make the vibrancy just appear.  It comes from the soul folks; it comes from the soul – ya gotta believe, you dig!

This piece of art is surrounded by don’t s.  It can`t be something someone can climb up and it must not have any sharp points and it has to comply with the Ontario Building Code. The art work should complement the design aesthetic of the building – does that mean it has to be grey and bland like the brick work?   The drawings submitted have to be certified by an engineer licensed to practice in Ontario.

The artist chosen will get a cheque for $95,000 CAD out of which he is going to have to pay for just about everything, including two trips to Burlington.

Stage 1 is the receiving of all the Expressions of Interest.  The deadline is April 13th and there will be hundreds of expressions of interest.   The selection committee will look at everything that comes in and ideally narrow it all down to three or four finalists using the following criteria:

Qualifications and professional experience of the artist.

Artistic merit of previous work.

Demonstrated ability to meet deadlines., budgets and success in executing projects of the scale outlined.

The artists responsiveness to the sit and approach to the project.

 Meeting deadlines and a budget is code for “we don`t want another pier on our hands”.

The three to four that make the cut from Stage 1 will be asked to prepare a Concept Proposal that is to include an artists statement, preliminary drawings, draft budget and implantation plan.  The finalists will have eight weeks to get this done and when submitted they will be paid an Honorarium of $1500 each.  The proposals then go to the public for comment and feedback.

The selection committee will recommend the successful artist based on the merits of the Concept Proposal, technical feasibility and public feed back.

Burlington's intellectual cognoscenti pose with the artist at the installation of the orchids on Upper Middle Road.

Unveiling a work of public art on the patio of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre will be a lot more dramatic than the miserable setting up of the orchids on Upper Middle Road on a chilly winter day.  Not an artist in site other than the Irishman who created the orchids, a couple of civil servants and a clutch of politicians.  Oh, and there were half a dozen mechanical types who had to drill new holes in the base of the orchids so the bolts put in place would fit.  While the orchids would past muster under almost any public art standard, the administration  and management of the that project was a lesson learned`.`

It is clear that the people in this city who makes the decisions didn’t take to our suggestion to move the orchids from Upper Middle to the steps of BPAC – an opportunity missed.

If all goes as planned the public art will be unveiled in front of the Burlington Performing Arts Centre in June of 2013.  Wait a minute – June of 2013 – isn’t that the month we plan to officially open The Pier?  Are we tempting fate here?



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