A collaboration between a cycling group and an arts organization is perhaps unusual, but Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) saw the value of animating their trails through 4e’s work. 4e saw the role of creative engagement as a means to encouraging folks to be active, and to learn about art processes.
We designed Telling Trails to work with two groups and sites: first, members of MICA and the general public on the cycling trail in Kagawong; second, the Grade 6/7 class at Central Manitoulin Public School in Mindemoya, and the cycling trail that runs through the community and along the public beach.
Our goal was multi-fold: first, to collaborate with a non-arts partner through a process that engaged the organization, its members and the public in a creative process of sculpture design; to build awareness of cycling trails and MICA through creative engagement; to integrate cultural and recreational activities; and to support MICA in its long-term vision to build sculptures along local biking trails.
Process For both the community and the school engagements, we cycled with participants along the trail several times, returning to the studio or classroom each time to develop designs based on the experience of the surroundings, and then back to the site again to push the design and think about it’s placement in situ, including questions of scale and other artistic considerations. The public process was more challenging in some ways as we didn’t have the same people for each session, but the smaller group size allowed for more one-on-one engagement. In the classroom, we revamped the process for team collaboration, rotating the teams each session so that when we got to the point of presenting one or two designs to the jury, and finally to the Town Council, the proposed sculpture was a full team design, not that of a single sub-group from the class. We worked very closely with the students to engage them with the process of responding to a sculpture commission. 4e worked with the local Town Council to obtain approval for the design to be installed on the waterfront trail, so the students knew from the start that they were working on a real project; we took them through the steps a professional artist would in creating a design (research, site research, design, assessment, decisions re: materials, scale etc.). Students selected two designs that met their design criteria and worked to push those final two designs toward a final design. Both designs were presented to a jury made up of a Town Council member, a MICA member, a 4e artist, and the school’s Principal. A maquette was built to see the work in 3-D.
For 4e it was a great learning experience, as we had not curated or facilitated much in the way of permanent sculpture design, and as this was a goal of ours, the project presented an opportunity to think through design for collaborative and non-artist participants, and working with MICA broadened our scope and we learned a lot about each organization. The students were excited to create a work that would be installed in the community; and we were able to hire a fabulous young welder, Kathryn Corbiere, to fabricate the work for the students. This was Kathryn’s first public art work project. She has gone on to win several other commissions in the few years since then; and 4e has facilitated a number of other design processes.