Art and the Community

Art and Community

Community art has been defined as “a generic name for a contemporary practice involving co-creative actions by artists and non-arts groups. While collaboration in artistic phases of conception, perception, production, dissemination and evaluation is key, community art has been contested, at times, by the “high” art world for its radical processes of inclusion. However, the practice is already recognized as being a lab situation for possible patterning of extended social action” (cj fleury and Elizabeth Sheehey, Templates for Activism Project).

“Plato’s Shadows” was a follow-up to “Taking it to the Streets”, a project organized by fellow community agencies to assess fear of crime in downtown Ottawa. It revealed a generalized discomfort around panhandlers and the problem of drugs, when in fact panhandlers are at high risk themselves and have several concerns of their own about safety on the streets.

“Plato’s Shadows” derived its title from the Plato’s Cave allegory and parallel ideas of the situation of street people: it is as if the general public only see a shadow of who they really are, not their true selves or true realities; once a member of the general public has knowledge and understanding about a street person’s real situation, the observer’s initial perception is forever changed. The project consisted of hands-on workshops with an aim at guiding members of this community in the creation of “identity sculptures” for experimental projections and subsequent large scale public production and documentation as a community-building model.

This model project took a significant step in giving street people a voice and drawing attention to their situation on local, provincial and national levels. CCJC saw this art project as an opportunity to deepen public insight into some key policy choices related to homelessness, mental health, poverty, subsidized affordable housing, the criminalization of social problems, and crime prevention through social development.

This project, sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council, was a partnership between CCJC, artist c. j. fleury, the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union, Centre 507, The Well (Women’s Drop-in Centre), Centre 454, Operation Go Home, St. Margaret Mary’s Church Sunday Suppers, St. Joe’s Women’s Centre, and the Ticket Defence Program.

The Ontario Arts Council is an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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