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Vancouver’s divisive ‘Spinning Chandelier’



The imagery of Spinning Chandelier, its funding and its placement all highlight the disparity that defines so much of Vancouver today. DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail


Sage MacGillivray is a project manager who has worked on numerous public and private art commissions in Western Canada. She currently works with David Robinson and contributed to the Windward Calm installation.

The controversy surrounding Spinning Chandelier, by B.C. artist Rodney Graham, is enough to make one’s head spin. Installed in November under Vancouver’s Granville Street Bridge at a cost of $4.8-million, the opulent sculpture hangs and spins above a space that typically offers refuge for homeless people – in a city facing a housing crisis driven by massive income disparity.

Criticism of the project has been fierce and has fallen upon the artist, property developer Westbank Corp., which funded the artwork, and our public art policy itself. These conversations raise urgent issues and will hopefully spark positive change for the future of art in our community. But these denigrations can demoralize and divide. Sometimes change is better galvanized by example. Fortunately, we need not look far for an uplifting success story in the here and now.

Windward Calm is a suspended kinetic sculpture in the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre at Vancouver General Hospital. Like Mr. Graham’s piece, Windward Calm required intensive engineering and custom-designed mechanics to achieve its kinetic motion. The sculptures are also similar in scale. But from conception to funding to production to impact, these artworks differ in the respect they show their community.

The inspiration for Windward Calm came to sculptor David Robinson as he recovered from open-heart surgery at the Diamond Centre cardiac rehabilitation unit. Surrounded by waiting patients, he recognized his own vulnerability in the people around him – a collective audience in turmoil, looking out over the vast empty space of the seven-storey atrium. The right artwork can help a viewer process and integrate their difficult feelings and experiences, and studies have shown that art can hasten the healing process. Surveying the void beyond the glass, Mr. Robinson saw the potential for just such an artwork.

Every day, thousands of people pass through Windward Calm’s atrium, but the sculpture was not funded through a public art program. Funding for the piece was donated by philanthropists Gordon and Leslie Diamond, which allowed the VGH+UBC Hospital Foundation to commission the artwork. As such, it’s akin to the many privately donated artworks in the foundation’s collection. To maximize the impact of the funding, Mr. Robinson donated his own hours to the project.

As a project manager for public art projects, I’ve seen policy applied in various ways. Another one of Mr. Robinson’s projects – Reflections on the River, for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo – was ground-breaking in its dedication to thorough community consultation on both siting and art selection. The project was recognized at this year’s Creative City Summit as one of Canada’s best public art projects of 2018.

I believe that the “Percent for Public Art” model, which requires developers to commission artworks or provide cash-in-lieu to the city’s public art fund, has good bones. But developers are allowed to game the system. For Spinning Chandelier, Westbank bundled three additional development contributions to cover cost overruns on Mr. Graham’s piece – potentially depriving the community of three other artworks. And by allowing the developer to secure “on site” status for an off-site installation on public property, the city is setting the stage for more public art to be curated by developers whose selections are self-serving – and, like the chandelier, might be alienating to the community. The philanthropic model is not immune to self-interest but, without the city-developer quid pro quo, it’s far less vulnerable to corruption. Such contributions, in addition to a well-applied public art program, can enrich our cultural landscape immeasurably.

The imagery of Spinning Chandelier, its funding and its placement all highlight the disparity that defines so much of Vancouver today. In contrast, those who funded and produced Windward Calm aim to give back.

It is this impact that sets these two artworks so far apart. Mr. Robinson frequently receives letters of gratitude from patients who have been comforted and inspired by his artwork. They often write of the peace and empowerment they feel and the sense that they are no longer alone. Defenders of Spinning Chandelier argue that the ironic nature of Mr. Graham’s piece gives it social value. But irony elevates ideas above people, whereas Windward Calm comes from a place of deep respect for those who encounter it.

These debates around art and policy are critical to community well-being. Mr. Graham has reflected on the controversy surrounding his work: “I’ve thought about these things more too, and it’s probably not something … that I would initiate right now,” he said. As the conversation continues, let’s give some thought to what kind of artwork can speak to our community – meaningfully, respectfully – and what kinds of programs can best support the creation of that art. And just as we critique the projects that have fallen short, let’s celebrate the vision, integrity and achievements of the ones that succeed.

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TRAMPS! looks at the art movement behind the The New Romantics –



TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

Cutaways is a personal essay series where filmmakers tell the story of how their film was made. This is one of 5 essays from directors featured at the 2022 Inside Out 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival

Rising from the nihilistic ashes of the punk movement in the late 1970s, a fresh crowd of flamboyant fashionistas, who would later be christened the New Romantics, began to materialize on the streets of London, England. 

My new feature film, TRAMPS! repositions the iconic 80s subculture as an art movement rather than solely a pop-cultural one.

This period in British history was particularly unique because kids could attend art or fashion school for free, and also lived in massive squatted houses with other fledgling artists. In a pre-AIDS era, this way of living provided a lifestyle with very little sense of consequence and resulted in a flourish of art being produced that straddled film, music, art and fashion causing waves around the world that resonate to this day. 

Their radical, proto-drag confused the media, who couldn’t look away — like a cultural car crash, and soon enough they were brought into homes internationally with the rocket-like rise-to-fame of the likes of Boy George and his band Culture Club.

TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

The idea for the film originates back to my trip to London, England with my first movie back in 2013. Admittedly, I came to the city with a well-developed obsession with UK music, arts and subculture going all the way back to my youth. I was struck by the proximity of these artists who were both central to my preexisting obsessions, and those who permeated the margins of the cultures I had come to love. 

I knew straight away that I needed to spend time getting under its skin for my next movie, and it wasn’t until a series of coincidences revealed to me what that movie would be, that things started falling into place.

As my research plunged to its depths I realized that I wanted to shift the focus away from megastars and instead shine a light on people like painter Trojan, who had to this point been thrust into the shadows of his partner in crime, performance artist Leigh Bowery. These shadows were also cast by the onslaught of AIDS and rampant drug use, which effectively banished so much of the creative community to obscurity. 

I crossed paths with incredible artists like fashion designers BodyMap, jewelry designer and stylist extraordinaire Judy Blame, choreographer Michael Clark and style icons Princess Julia and Scarlett Cannon. I was obsessed with their images, having permeated the pages of revolutionary cultural magazines like I-D and The Face, but seemed to flounder in terms of being celebrated as part of this movement which really was born out of a diversity of art practises, rather than strictly pop music aimed at straight people and dominant culture.

TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

For me, TRAMPS! is a movie about youth culture, the central characters just happen to be more advanced in their years. Of course, night life in London still thrives, and although they seem to be slipping away to the annals of the digitization of gay culture, the East End alternative gay bars still teem with boundary pushing queer artists and festive freaks. DJ’s like Princess Julia and Jeffrey Hinton are still very much at the centre of it. They’ve been at it since the early 80s — Jeffrey Hinton was the resident DJ at Leigh Bowery’s nightclub Taboo, which was infamously debaucherous. 

People like Julia and Jeffrey are a well of energy and I was eager to dip my bucket in! I wanted to bridge the gap between the archaic divide between so-called “kids these days” and the generations that predated them. I think the adage goes, if you’re not interested, you’re not interesting. The subjects in my film continue to engage with and produce art in whatever guise that may be — even just dressing up! 

Making a documentary can be pretty depleting, especially when you spend years chasing pennies from granting bodies. For me that also extended into a sense of unworthiness — like the project I cared so deeply for didn’t have the worth I felt it had. It can also be costly in many other ways, such as a forced unsustainable lifestyle, especially when other filmmakers seem to sail through things like financing and distribution, where I felt I was destined to flounder. 

That’s why when I would look at the subjects in TRAMPS! I began to see them not as just members of bygone subculture, but instead as a sort of mystical source of inspiration. To be an artist is to be a survivalist, resilience is at its centre, and so the narrative of the movie began to develop around those themes. Because I needed to hear it, I assumed others like me would also benefit from their secrets. What was the source of that resilience? How do they survive? How will I continue to make art and survive? 

TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

The New Romantics were essentially living what we are now seeing in what is sometimes referred to as the precariat generation; those whose income and employment are entirely insecure today. While working small jobs in friends shops, and a variety of other side gigs, trying to survive while making this movie — this fear-filled existence became central in my life and the narrative of the movie as well. Very dramatic I know, but these are undeniably dramatic times. 

I hoped the answer, and inspiration to continue down this path existed somewhere in their story.  This was the inspiration I needed to grow as a filmmaker and as a person, and so TRAMPS! was born.

I wanted to find some tenderness in a community that was so well-known for its aesthetic alone, and through this concept and cliché of the “artists struggle” I feel we really did find a lot of heart in that. It wasn’t until the movie was invited to play BFI Flare, and I stood on the stage at two sold out screenings that I realized that pursuit I so desperately needed to continue, truly did manifest in this documentary. I’m so excited to be able to share that with anyone and everyone who may continue to be in that position. 

Ultimately, TRAMPS! is an allegorical gesture to artists of any generation trying to navigate how to produce work in an aggressively capitalist political economy. It happens to take place in London, but I hope it speaks to artists everywhere.

TRAMPS! screens in Toronto at the Inside Out 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival on Tuesday, May 31. It is available to stream across Ontario from May 26 to June 5.

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Downtown Art Alley unveiled – Windsor Star



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An expanded art space, illuminated by colourful overhead lanterns and lush hanging flower baskets, now greets visitors to what was a dark, dingy alley behind the Pelissier Street parking garage.

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Officially unveiled Thursday, Art Alley is a vibrant, colourful public space that its creator, the Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association, hopes will attract visitors to the city core.

With support from the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association, the Downtown Districting Committee, the City of Windsor and partner contractors, and $25,000 from the federal government’s Healthy Communities Initiative, the laneway transformed into an outdoor art gallery.

“On behalf of the Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association, I cannot express how delighted we are to unveil one of the most exciting, innovative and collaborative projects the board has ever seen,” said Pat Papadeas, vice-chairwoman of the DBRWA board of directors.

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Public spaces like this one are glue in our communities

These works encompass significant art installations in the core and include graffiti art installations and the magnificent lampshade art installation dreamed up, developed and dedicated by some of the region’s finest artists.”

Art in the air: Phase one of Art Alley, located north of Maiden Lane, between Pelissier Street and Ouellette Avenue, is unveiled during a press event highlighting the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022.
Art in the air: Phase one of Art Alley, located north of Maiden Lane, between Pelissier Street and Ouellette Avenue, is unveiled during a press event highlighting the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Papadeas credited artists Julia Hall, Kiki Simone, Talysha Bujold-Abu, Tony Castro, Ostoro Petahtegoose and graffiti artist DERKZ, for the dazzling display.

“Public spaces like this one are glue in our communities,” said Richard Wyma, chairman of the WindsorEssex Community Foundation board of directors. “They enable a feeling of belonging and social cohesion.

“They’re a big part of what makes community’s safe and vibrant and connected.”

Wyma said the WindsorEssex Community Foundation worked alongside community foundations from across southwestern Ontario to determine recipients of $794,000 as part of the second round of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative.

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Seven local projects shared $165,000.

Wyma said funding was allocated to projects in three overall categories — safe and vibrant public spaces, improved mobility options and digital solutions.

The other local recipients include Bike Windsor Essex for its Safe Windsor Cycling program, CJAM FM student media to support its technology lending library program, the Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator supporting its development of the accelerator community patio, Essex County Library supporting its library book bike and mobile information kiosk program, the Polish People’s Home Association supporting the creation and transformation of an eco-friendly pavilion for safe gatherings and the Rotary Club of Windsor 1918 for Windsor Essex Rainbow Alliance supporting the re-development and enhancement of Lanspeary Park.

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Art Alley was made possible in part thanks to the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022. The Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association’s Art Alley is one of the projects funded through the initiative.
Art Alley was made possible in part thanks to the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022. The Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association’s Art Alley is one of the projects funded through the initiative. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk said the goal of the fund is to bring the community and community partners together.

“Wow, this is absolutely incredible,” Kusmierczyk said. “Look at this. This is an absolutely incredible transformation.

“And it takes a little bit of vision, it takes a little bit of hard work. And it also takes collaboration and partnerships and this is the end result.”

Ward 3 councillor Rino Bortolin was praised by both Papadeas and Kusmierczyk for his tireless work to improve the downtown area and especially to bring out the potential of the city’s alleys.

“There’s been no bigger, better champion for downtown than Rino Bortolin,” Kusmierczyk said. “I wanted to thank you Coun. Bortolin for your vision, your steadfast advocacy.”

Thursday’s reveal was just the first phase of the development of Art Alley, according to Papadeas, who hinted that another announcement will soon be coming regarding the newly updated space.

“This is not scientific, but our sense is that 80 per cent of any issues we have downtown will actually solve themselves by people being down here,” she said. “People moving, people walking, people shopping, people sitting around and enjoying the day.

“This is a welcoming space and this is for the community.”


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Your Arts Council talks Cornwall Art Walk, Apples & Art at AGM – Standard Freeholder



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Your Arts Council (YAC) hosted its annual general meeting (AGM) on Tuesday, and the organization is looking forward to upcoming community events.

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To kick off the meeting, YAC executive director Richard Salem discussed some of the upcoming art-focused initiatives that are happening throughout the region. This included chatting about the 31st Apples and Art Studio Tour, which typically spans a weekend in September. The tour has 39 confirmed artists participating so far, across 26 locations. Registration is due at the end of May.

Salem also discussed two events taking place this coming Saturday.

One is Art For All at the Cornwall Square, hosted by Cornwall Art Hive. This weekend’s event is set to host representatives from the international Art Hive initiative, to see what is being created in Cornwall, and discuss future opportunities.

And, the city will be unveiling its First Paint Brush event in Lamoureux Park on Saturday. This wall art event, hosted in partnership with Cornwall Art Hive and YAC, will create a focus on local street art, with the possibility of future expansion.

In terms of ongoing projects, Salem said YAC is looking to pick up its YouTube series profiling local artists again come fall. The long-term intention of this vignette-style project is to archive artists’ information, and advertise our art-positive community.

“There’s a lot of events now that things are starting to open up, and we are doing are best to publicize them,” said Salem.

  1. Local artist Yafa Goawily showing a mandala she created, on Saturday, during the first Art 4 All event. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

    Cornwall Hive’s Art 4 All event hopes to grow

  2. The Your Arts Council of Cornwall and SDG unveiled a new logo in collaboration with the Cornwall Art Hive at its general meeting on Tuesday, June 22, 2021 over Zoom. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

    Your Arts Council struggled in pandemic, but excited for the year ahead

  3. The old Bank of Montreal building on Pitt Street on Friday July 6, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont. The building will soon become Cornwall's new arts centre.
Lois Ann Baker/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

    YAC interested in running Cornwall’s arts centre

Mandy Prevost, Cornwall Art Walk co-ordinator, discussed what can be expected June 24 and Aug. 26, such as art of all natures — including visual art demonstrations, musicians, and acting performances. She was excited to announce the event has received a $5,000 grant from the Tourism Development Corp. of Cornwall

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YAC’s new chairperson Neil Carriere shared some words of optimism to close out the meeting.

“I was embraced by this incredible, creative, dynamic, wonderful community that I really didn’t know existed until I kind of got into it myself. And this is kind of something I think we should be shouting from the rooftops: what a wonderful art community we have here in Cornwall,” said Carriere.

Carriere spoke highly of the Art Walk and is looking forward to seeing residents out, enjoying each other’s creations. He said he believes now that COVID-19 restrictions are shifting, artists are hungry to create a powerful difference.

“We need to show our presence in this city with the arts. I think we can be that presence,” he said, suggesting Cornwall can be recognized as a city for its great art.

While treasurer Jenelle Bulloch was unable to attend the AGM, financial records indicate that YAC received $22,000 in grants in 2021, contributing to an overall revenue of $38,286. Expenses were reduced this year, coming in at a total of $30,286, for special projects, salaries, insurance, and more.

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