Highlights from Shaping Our City: Brainstorming Session

Walter and Victoria

Last Friday,  a group of us gathered by the fireplace at Civic Space for some continuous conversation and had a great time discussing and sharing ideas, even creating new ones together! With Edgar’s suggestion, we dubbed the night ‘Tertulia’, a word used to describe any kind of social gathering of intelligent or artistic thought.

The group

Walter lead the discussions, modelling it much like the success of our City Counseling Session in 2011.  Our talk  began with a project Walter worked on in the summer time called WE Data Glow.  Though he created small prototypes and tested installations, the group aided in giving suggestions on how he could take it further, including install locations, new design, and possibly ‘sponsorships’ from local companies for materials. That discussion lead to each of us agreeing that we wanted to see more art pieces like this one around the city,  but not just limiting to visual arts. Jessica, a lover of music (especially opera) hopes for more musical events that cater to classical-lovers.

Another thing that came up were the city’s priorities. Where  do we want to see money going into? What would certain spaces look like if artists took it over and had their say? What places do we want to keep, what places to we want to work on, and what places can we do without? (looking back to Sites of Apology/Hope.)

The notes.

We want to see art happening in places we don’t expect! Or, places we once expected. Like the old band shell inside Jackson Park.  Wouldn’t it be great to see a big band play in that big, beautiful park, Jess? Or, free outdoor movie nights in an old abandoned lot.

At the end of the night, we decided everyone wanted to continue this discussion again. We’re hoping for a monthly meet-up, perhaps in different locations. The more people that come out to join, the more conversation and a chance to build connections and make some of our wishes happen! What’s important here is that we’re talking, whether it’s with three people or twenty people.

Any info on an upcoming Tertulia will be posted so you can come out.

Notes from our City Counselling Session in 2011.

Last Week & Tonight: All Tomorrow’s Problems

Last Monday night,  a small group of us gathered around the table to talk about All Tomorrow’s Problems. This is an open event that invites anyone to attend and think of this as a very loosely organized group to discuss and exercise your ideas on a specific topic. We may not actually make anything, but we will aim to creatively respond to the issue at hand. It picks up again tonight, Monday, October 15 at 7pm!

Huge thanks to Sam Lefort, Eric Boucher and Dan McCafferty for joining me and Danielle. The goal of this biweekly design night is to articulate and imagine the problems and solutions facing the city in a longer horizon, and which have already begun to reveal themselves.

The topic of the first-week: youth retention. It’s not a secret that this has been an area of ongoing concern for me, personally, and so it was great to talk through ideas of how we could address this problem, without them being tethered to the all-too-familiar limits and and realities regularly articulated in the community.

Some of the notes from the evening … I particularly liked the idea of making it easier for people to find their place in the community here, rather than assuming their place is waiting for them somewhere else. The big question framing the entire discussion — what are the barriers in place that prevent recent graduates from staying here?

Also discussed — more focus on mentorship, a guerilla marketing campaign for parents to “talk to their kids about Windsor,” a head-hunter for every single graduate, an effort to more coherently articulate the local, and a completely revamped set of bylaws to jumpstart entrepreneurship here that doesn’t look like entrepreneurship in other cities and places.

All Tomorrow’s Problems isn’t aiming to necessarily solve the problems we discuss, but instead, open up an imaginative dialogue around these issues. Solving problems is over-rated anyways, asking the right questions is so much more important. Around the table on the first night, we had artists, designers, filmmakers, teachers, and a soon-to-be lawyer. In my mind, that’s a dangerously good combination of people asking a variety of questions. But, I’m also pretty sure that having you around the table would make it even better.

We’re not dismissing or avoiding actionable ideas, we just don’t want to get caught up in the limits of logistics and pragmatism — the city already seems to do that really well. See you tonight at 7pm.

Planning for Civic Maintenance

While some of us were away last week in North Bay, Sara and Kevin caught up to talk through some ideas around the next project we’ll be hosting out of CIVIC SPACE. It was an excellent welcome home to walk into a wall of notes from their conversation. Anxious to keep talking through these ideas later on this week.

Civic Maintenance is the working title of this next project, and it’s moving towards the direction of a letter-writing campaign to thousands of citizens of Windsor. We’re thinking about what it means to maintain relationships and connections in the city and how simple gestures might reframe the ways in which we feel connected (or don’t) to the city.

Sara drafted a potential design on the chalkboard.

If we’re going to be able to write a couple thousand letters, we’re also going to be looking for ways to open up the project for other community members to participate.

Sending letters to city hall.

Funny question around planning for a potential exhibition of the letters and letter writing process — “is this too art?”

Exhibition planning.

BCL mailbox!

Letter design templates.

This drawing opened up the idea of having a series of mailboxes on the walls (at least for me!)

Fill in the blanks to generate content?

Outdoor mailbox.

Submitting writing and letter drafts through a web form.

The wall and caption. More soon.

A Week in the Studio: Some Documentation and Reflections on Last Week at CIVIC SPACE

While we prepare for the launch of CIVIC SPACE on June 21st with the Letter Library project, we’re also settling into a routine of being in the space at 411 Pelissier. The idea of having a space of our own is really new to us. Four years after starting BCL by meeting in the classrooms at the School of Visual Arts in the summer, and our backyards, living rooms, and a bunch of coffee shops and restaurants, we’re realizing an intensity in our work that was basically impossible before.

Never much of a studio collective, per se, we’re now enjoying the shared space and time, and it’s impacting everything we’re doing. More time together means more time for ideas, concerns, and conversations to work themselves out rather than trying to get through everything in one sitting. In the past, meeting altogether just once a week narrowed our collective time and often translated into a very stop and go process — there was a lot that was happening, but it existed as reports, reflections, or to-do lists that never really got done.

Of course, we’re also only experiencing one side of having this time and space together. When CIVIC SPACE launches next week, we’ll be entering into a new dynamic with the wider community as well.

This dynamic will be necessarily different than our past projects like Storefront Residencies for Social Innovation — that was a very intense concentrated thirty days of open door programming at a time and in a place that was challenged by the construction happening just outside our doors. CIVIC SPACE will aim to meet and respond to the possibilities of collectivizing around creative responses to the community in front of us.

On the ground, this will translate into fairly regular weekly programming — these will start as small events and opportunities to connect with other people towards exploring art as a position from which we can become engaged in the spatial and civic practices that shift constantly in the background of our experiences of the city.

Of course, the legibility of these events as such will be most pronounced from the longest view of the project. In front of us, these weekly “events” will be simply opportunities to spend time together (and together includes you). Increasingly, we’re understanding our work not as a way to fix a city, but as a way to fix the ways that we act (and assume we can act) within it.

But until next week, here’s a look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

First off, Drift v1.5 has been submitted to the App store for approval. While the wait time is something around 7-10 days, it’s super exciting to do the actual submission part of it.

Kevin has been working on building a rig for our window so that we can change the window display more frequently, while also keeping it flexible to start screenings.

Remnants of an afternoon of cutting out letters.

Hiba and Rosina working in parallel. Hiba holds a two-sided page of a to-do list. Rosina pulls cards from her wallets as she works on the design of the Letter Library card.

Hiba and I also work on some writing. So early in the process, and so wide. We’ll submit later this month to Evental Aesthetics.

Rosina’s mastering Illustrator.

Kevin meets more drywall. We built a moveable wall that’s still waiting to be moveable. But in the meantime, it’s getting a coat of mud and paint.

Just a small number of the letters we’ll have ready for you to use as part of our Letter Library project on June 21st.

Hiba showing off her jigsaw skills with an expertly crafted B.

An evening session with Sara, Danielle and Kevin. Felt nice to meet in the space when the street was quiet. It’s not always great to have to break up the group so much, but on the other side, often small groups share more, faster.

An early jigsaw rig.

Wall to wall Kevin.

We made a table from MDF and sawhorses, but it’s probably our most favourite table ever.

One letter set of Super Scrabble has 200 letters. We’re aiming to make two of these.

O, curves.

Josh and Hiba spend Friday afternoon temporarily installing some letters to make this.

Kevin with more drywall mud.

The Letter Library. Some masking tape stuck these styrofoam letters to a brick wall all afternoon. We love how light these are!

Masking tape prep.

Josh places the maiden letter on the wall.

The side of our building.

Up and down the ladder, Josh uses just his eye to line up the entire text.

The brick pattern helped.

Hiba and Josh in the alley.

A serious man.

We’re still trying to decide if these letters are going to be painted white, or black, or something else entirely.

Inside, Kevin works the surface of chipboard to a super smooth finish.

Josh’s kerning was spot on for Helvetica, but maybe a bit too loose initially for the amount of wall space we had.

So, Josh made a lot of adjustments, but eventually got it all to fit really well.

Between drywall mud layers, Kevin also mocked up this jigsaw rig. Despite our experience with jigsaws (we used them to cut out the letters for Reflect on Here), they get really heavy after a while.

So, we had the idea to basically turn the jigsaw into a half ban saw (or something like that). Kevin went to work on it.

Outside, Josh continues the install.

The letters remaining.

And finally, it’s done. We can’t wait to see how people use these letters to caption different parts of the city.

Kevin’s work on the jigsaw rig …

Crude, but it does the job. He finished the rig later on Friday night and it’s now waiting for us to start cutting styrofoam without breaking our wrists. We have to cut about 40 letters a day to hit our target.

We’re at the space from about 11am to 4pm everyday. If you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by. We’re also going to have a painting party to get these letters finished for next Thursday — interested? Let us know.

Early Research: Letters from Styrofoam (letter library)

These are early days for a spontaneous new project, but here’s how we’re starting. Rosina, Hiba, and I met on Friday and after going through our usual to-do list, we started discussing some new projects. These new projects are all going to be tied together, and we’ll be writing about what that tie might look like soon.

The starting point for this new project — maybe called the Letter Library Project, or maybe something very different — came from thinking about how we might collectively be framing the city of Windsor as it transitions (slowly) and what we might want to reframe, piece by piece. The city is once again at the top of the unemployment statistics, but there are some large infrastructural projects that are going to dramatically change the physicality of the city itself and in turn, the way we experience it, though it remains to be seen if this will actually change the city, or just reframe it for us.

And the background of this project might actually go back even a bit further, in terms of material, as Rosina and I had met earlier in the week to talk about working on some signage. Research led us to wanting to experiment with styrofoam — givens its rigidity and ease to work with.

We saw a lot of videos online of people cutting styrofoam into different shapes (and certainly letters) with hot wires, electric knives, and yes jigsaws.

We had a jigsaw and so we went to it. The styrofoam we got was packaged at Home Depot as basically made for crafts and very small home projects. We weren’t sure that it would be dense enough for the cuts — at the time, we had assumed that the denser (and pink) insulation type of styrofoam would work better, but it was too expensive to bother testing with.

Given the scale of what we’re planning to do, the cost would have been enormous, so we went with the cheaper stuff to just get a feel for possible scale and process, even if the material itself may need to be changed down the road. But, as you can see above, the jigsaw with a 24 TPI metal blade did the trick and cut the styrofoam with a decent level of precision without the messy edges we had anticipated.

Hiba and I both took some test cuts before deciding to attempt a more complex shape.

We selected the letter R for a test.

Hand-drawn for now.

Rosina made the cuts.


Rosina with the saw.

Hiba arrived a few minutes later.

We had a test letter.

Another bonus of this type of styrofoam was the thickness allows the letter to stand up.

I think Rosina was really happy.

The cuts were fairly good, though we briefly wondered about finding a better way to avoid an angle on the edge of the letters — that is, the face of the depth of each letter would undulate a bit as we failed to hold the saw consistently at 90 degrees. A ban saw would be good for this, but it’s not essential.

I was trying to get a sense of how much we were moving the saw and what the effect was on the angle of the depth.

The letter R moves into the wild…

… and then returns for a quick coat of paint.

Spray paint would eat the styrofoam, but craft paint was no problem.

More painting.

The letter R dries.

Then, some duct tape.

Given how incredibly light-weight the styrofoam is, duct-tape makes for a great mounting device. On brick.

On wood.

On metal.

On a tree didn’t work as well, there wasn’t a lot of surface area for the tape.

So, that’s the very early stages of a new project. The next steps will be cutting out a bunch of letter templates with the vinyl cutter in card stock, stencilling, cutting, and then a painting party, and then the project launch. Assuming all goes to plan.

And then there’s this … more soon.

pg 82, Did Someone Say Participate: An Atlas of Spatial Practice

Regeneration strategies […] are shaped by economists, planners, infrastructure engineers, phasing and finance experts. Before the public is consulted, and before any creative practitioners are engaged, these experts have decided where the problem lies and what the likely solution should be. […] The result is too often the bland and bureaucratic, the well-meaning but unimaginative, and the cycle of renewal and degradation that is a product of short-term and reactive rather than pro-active thinking.

-From the essay, “Inclusive and Holistic” by Lucy Musgrave and Clare Cumberlidge

Two Tales of a City: Interview with Ariane from le Centre Français

Below is the transcription of the interview Rosina and I had this fall with Ariane from the Centre Français in Hamilton. While going through what was discussed around the topics of francophonie in Hamilton, I came across a good amount of ideas and phrases that could be interestingly interpreted when paired in context to the steel industry. It became clear to me that the Steel industry versus other minor industries important to Hamilton’s development, such as the textile industry, tells an interesting story when paired with the Anglophone culture in Hamilton versus a variety of other language-based cultures forming in the city over the past 40 years.

At the end of the interview we asked about words in either language that cannot be translated. I think this would be a good question to ask on an online form in the near future.

Below is the interview (in french), and as a comment to this post is the  compilation of the phrases picked out of the conversation to be used as further research. Please read the interview (you can translate it roughly using google if you need to) and add your comments and suggestions for potential interviewees, as well as further interview questions for a steel industry representative, an anglophone, and a textile industry representative.

Thanks again to Ariane at the Centre Français in Hamilton for providing some insights into francophone culture and identity in Hamilton.

Continue reading “Two Tales of a City: Interview with Ariane from le Centre Français”

City Counseling (Session #1)

Last night, in front of city hall, we had a conversation about the ways we want to shape our city.

In the midst of rising tensions around existing city services and new infrastructures, there seems to be a renewed wish for not just more public dialogue with the city, but a dialogue based on transparency and vision.

We haven’t been seeing that kind of dialogue, so we thought we might try to have our own.

Continue reading “City Counseling (Session #1)”