Cities for People: Putting Art at the Centre

Culture Days and National Broadcast Partner CTV (Bell Media) invited Canadian journalism and media students to participate in a Student Reporter and Media Internship program during the Annual National Congress on Culture in Edmonton, Alberta on May 7 and 8, 2015. Five lucky students participated in this innovative program including a behind-the-scenes guided tour of the CTV Newsroom in Edmonton and a once-in-lifetime mentoring session with Marci Ien, co-host of CTV’s Canada AM.

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We, as cities, and communities, must create an environment, or habitat where each and every one of us does not just survive, but thrive. That’s the impetus of Cities for People, says Shawn Van Sluys, Executive Director of Musagetes Foundation who facilitated a conversation about the national initiative during #Congress2015.

With partners across the country, Cities for People explores a series of broad themes: CityScapes, New Economies, Citizen Spaces, and Art and Society. At #Congress2015, Van Sluys focused on the work of the Art and Society team who have been experimenting on changing the stories and practices of the community through arts and culture. Their goal is to find a way to make art more accessible in cities, and they recognize that they will need to use different techniques for different cities.

Van Sluys wants to transform unused spaces in cities into useable spaces. For him it is about people contributing to the creation of their city. People should “not just be living in concrete blocks but should have a reflection of themselves in the city,” he says.

The creation of Cities for People reflects the urgency to understand each other across the world. According to Sluys, the arts build empathy and have the capacity to increase love between people of different cultures across the world. With an interest in art education and centrality of arts, Sluys asks: how do we create a more accessible space for the arts? “How do we connect arts in a meaningful way to the urgent issues and concerns in society?”

The SenseLabs project in Lethbridge, Alberta has been looking at ways to address these questions. Participants looked at wasted spaces in the city, such as spaces between boulevards, and came up with a two-week project to “fill” those wasted spaces. A red carpet was placed in all the places that are overlooked in the city.

“Our perception of the world is developed through artistic thinking, and when we are living in a city where every building or potential artistic space can be creatively decorated, then members of the community should join together to make it a better place to live,” says Sluys.

The SenseLabs engaged a group of non-artists to be creative, and discovered that most of them had some experience with drawing that they carried with them from early childhood.

So “how do you make arts central and meaningful in our community?,” asks Sluys.

Cities for People suggest that individuals in a community do not become interested in arts and culture until they practice it themselves. Sluys says we should remove barriers in the cultural industry.

“We are not paying to see that piece of art the same as we do for outdoor concerts. There’s a difference between not paying for art because it’s worthless and engaging audience with complimentary performances and street art,” he says.

The question we ask moving forward is, “how can we hold ourselves responsible for improvements in our city?”

– See more at: http://culturedays.ca/blog/2015/05/12/cities-people-putting-art-centre/#sthash.VGtiMIBX.dpuf

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