From Here, Convening Place is a collaborative project envisioned as part of Cul-de-Sac, an exhibition connecting planning with our natural environment, curated by Amery Calvelli at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton. Aligned with the exhibition premise, this project is a local response to the current neighborhood restructuring taking place in the vicinity of the gallery which is affecting a number of long-term residents and local groups rooted in and around downtown Edmonton. On early March 2019, From Here, Convening Place sparked a dialog among individuals, artists, designers and civic organizations invested and concerned about the future of the area through a number of activities including a neighborhood walk, discussions with local politicians and community leaders, and a workshop facilitated by Cohabitation Strategies’ co-founders Lucia Babina and Gabriela Rendón. Edmonton-based artist, curator, architect and collaborator of this project Tiffany Shaw-Collinge organized along with Amery Calvelli a number of visits to local organizations and a walk guided by Lori Gawryliuk, artistic director of Quarters Arts, through the Boyle Street neighborhood and part of Chinatown. This old low-income neighborhood, which is home of numerous community and art organizations, holds many vacant sites that were demolished by the city for redevelopment purposes during the 1970 but were never developed. However, in recent years the city has been once again focused on this central area promoting development. During the neighborhood walk the ongoing developments, mostly luxurious apartments, raised questions about those benefiting from the ongoing redevelopment plans and the way those developments are impacting the local communities. Afterward, a number of meetings were arranged with key community leaders and public officials where many of those questions were clarified and other aspects related with the revitalization of the area came to light. These valuable conversations informed the workshop in which residents and members of local organizations participated, including RISE, I Human, Canadian Native Friendship Center, Quarters Arts Society, as well as a number of organizations based in Chinatown.
The workshop got started with the creation of a sociogram which is a tool to chart and visualize relationships between individuals and groups. Participants identified their role in the neighborhood as well as the type of relationships among each other and other entities in the area and across the city. Over the activity, they discovered how disconnected were some of them despite living and working in the same space and facing similar threats due to the ongoing development. At the end of the session, new relationships had been established. Seeking to understand new ways of defining home, participants discussed a number of questions during the second session of the workshop. What is home? How can our urban habitat be more hospitable to the act of convening or gathering? What is the role of habitat/home as it relates to multiple generations? And, what opportunities are there for a deeper re-connection with the land in an urban setting? The outcome of the discussions led to the acknowledgment of the different perceptions and visions of the participants. Breaking down in small groups, then participants got together to discuss local collective needs, demands, and imaginaries around home which were materialized in strong statements urging for specific ways to attain such ideals. Around fifteen statements were drafted, and five of them were selected by the authors to be shared. The statements will be distributed as posters by the participant groups across the city and displayed at the upcoming Cul-de-Sac exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta which opens in April 2019. Visitors of the exhibition will also be invited to distribute the posters in their neighborhoods and to create their own statements around home.
The dialogues and relationships that emerged out of these activities at the beginning of March 2019 will inform the creation of an installation on the gallery’s terrace which will continue promoting discussions and ideas about community, indigenous definitions of the land, and the notion of shared habitat. The installation will be designed by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, core member of Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective, and Matthew Kennedy and Mark Erickson, founders of the design+build practice Studio North in Calgary.