Emily Carr University of Art + Design began the process of launching a new campus in Prince George by partnering with the Wood Innovation Design Centre (WIDC) in 2015. Living Labs took on an active role in programming creative research and industry projects through this new lens of institutional activity. Through discussion with Justin Langlois, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Culture and Community, the idea emerged to produce another iteration of Langlois’ Neighbourhood Time Exchange project, which he had piloted in Philadelphia in 2015. It would be the first major research project created by Emily Carr in this new geographical context, and would be the first time that the Neighbourhood Time Exchange model had been realized in Canada.
Drawing inspiration from reciprocity-based exchange practices such as time-banking, the goal was to create a generative framework in a lived context that would allow us to reach into the local community in Prince George while creating sustainable and supportive opportunities for artists. Between September 2016 and April 2017 the Neighbourhood Time Exchange : Downtown Prince George linked community-engaged social practice with artistic studio production, operating on a simple principle: for every hour an artist spends in their studio, they provide an hour of volunteer service to the community.
We saw the project as a perfect opportunity to create a ‘living lab’ in a city that was new to us, allowing us to support local and visiting artists-in-residence while forming a network of foundational relationships with community partners that we knew would be crucial to future activities in Prince George. Working with Northern Development Initiative Trust, we engaged Downtown Prince George and the City of Prince George as key partners for the project, which became the Neighbourhood Time Exchange : Downtown Prince George.
In the summer of 2016 Living Labs circulated an open call to Prince George community organizations inviting ideas for how they might wish to collaborate with artists. This process helped us understand the core work, needs and possibilities for working with a variety of prospective community partners. Non-profits, locally-owned businesses, schools, councils, social service organizations, and other groups were asked to propose projects beyond the scope of their existing capacity that would draw upon the expertise of artists. Through this process Downtown Prince George, Innovation Central Society, the Prince George Public Library, Recycling and Environmental Action Planning Society (REAPS), and Two Rivers Gallery were identified as community partners.
In a parallel process, the curatorial team began thinking of how to match community partners to the skills and expertise of artists. As curator, Justin Langlois – in collaboration with Emily Carr MFA grad and Assistant Curator Caitlin Chaisson – sought out socially-engaged practitioners locally and nationally at different career stages whose expertise would serve community partners in unique ways.
In the end, nine artists worked in the Prince George storefront studio, each for a period of one month. Artists were given the time, space, and resources to develop their independent practices while being immersed in the context of Prince George. Each artist was paired with one or more community organizations for the duration of their residency.
We felt it was important that the work directly support the neighbourhood and engage authentically with the surrounding community. We secured a vacant storefront in the downtown area that had been closed for several years, and with minor renovations transformed the underutilized space into a lively cultural centre. We sourced materials from neighbourhood stores, thrifted furniture from second-hand vendors, invited local musicians to perform at openings, and hired local photographers to document our events. We hired a Prince George-based Project Coordinator – Roanne Whitticase – whose work enriched the programming of the residency by continuously linking artists with the local community. The community’s engagement grew each month as more people heard about the studio.
In September, we officially launched Neighbourhood Time Exchange : Downtown Prince George with Vancouver-based artists Rachel and Sarah Seburn as inaugural artists-in-residence. Recent graduates from Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, the collaborative practice of these emerging artists addresses real estate, architecture, urban planning, and land use. Working with their community partner, Downtown Prince George, Seburn & Seburn activated forgotten spaces in the downtown core by creating an outdoor platform space designed to encourage gatherings and dialogue. The Prince George Activator Society, a non-profit that helps reintegrate recently released prison inmates into the workforce, volunteered to help construct the installation. The artists also worked with the Recycling and Environmental Action Planning Society (REAPS) to develop a contribution to the annual Rivers Day event. The artists developed an installation by submerging a bright red silk below the surface of the river. The material ebbed and flowed with the currents, unexpectedly conjuring the bright colours of a school of salmon.
Lily Mead Martin arrived in early October. Martin’s art practice uses drawings, photographs, sculpture, installation and performance to understand the tensions between urban development and the individual, architecture and the body. ‘Building’ became a metaphor and a strategy for both Martin’s studio practice and her work on her community project, where she worked with Two Rivers Gallery to redeck the gallery’s sculpture court. In the studio Martin’s thoughts turned to the architectural plans of the city, and the legacy of the flood and fire history in Prince George. Over the course of the month Martin developed a new body of ink-based drawings using starchy, net-like gauzes and staining processes. The resulting marks of the paper-based work flip between looking like the page has been smokily scorched or seared, or flooded by pools of watery ink. Martin refers to some of the drawings in the series as “small geographies”, creating a connection to the tropes of mapping.
In November Alana Bartol arrived from Calgary. Immediately, the confluence of the Nechako River and the Fraser River became a point of inspiration for her. Throughout the month, Bartol framed her work both in the studio and on a community project with Downtown Prince George through metaphors of ‘coming together’, an idea evoked through the natural course of the meeting of the rivers. Working on Downtown Prince George’s ‘Love Downtown’ project prompted the artist to think about what it means to love, care, and support a place. Bartol initiated conversations with Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School, The Fire Pit, met with local historians, spoke with local women at UNBC’s Inspiring Women Among Us panel, and developed relationships with many other individuals committed to telling their own stories of Prince George. These conversations formed a significant part of Bartol’s artistic research during the residency.
In December the storefront studio was turned over to our Project Coordinator, Roanne Whitticase, who developed and facilitated a number of community event requests. The momentum of the residency was carried during this month by a swell of interest and support from the local community, when the space hosted musical performances, exhibitions, craft nights, and discussions about the importance of community-driven art spaces in the city.
David Jacob Harder took up residence over January. Based in Wells, British Columbia, Harder is very familiar with the central interior of the province. Harder produced an extensive body of work that incorporates the immediate environment into his material and conceptual concerns, as well as collaborating with local musicians. Much of Harder’s practice involves collecting material from backwoods, riverbeds, or isolated logging roads. Harder returned in February to help his community partner Downtown Prince George create an ice sculpture and other public installations for the 2017 Winter Carnival.
Calgary-based artists Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton arrived in February, partnering with Downtown Prince George and the Prince George Public Library on two projects that sought out new strategies and methods for engaging the public. With the Library, the artists engaged community members in developing a strategy for redesigning the library’s Knowledge Garden, an outdoor sculpture park for children. In the studio, the duo developed a collaborative quilting process based on improvisation and strategies of collage.
In March we hosted Michelle Fu, co-founder of acclaimed artist-run centre, 221A. Fu has a wealth of knowledge about institutional development and community-minded initiatives, and she is experienced in looking to public infrastructures from social, critical or philosophical perspectives on designed media and space. Partnered with the Innovation Central Society, Fu developed spatial organization strategies for the Hubspace, a technology-oriented co-working space. Fu worked in the studio developing new computer-aided embroidery work and created an experimental engagement process involving the piling, hanging, stacking, balancing and stretching of objects into complex assemblages. Towards the end of the month the artist invited the neighbourhood to participate in a giant version of her creative process, a workshop titled Objects art everyday life rhythms smells and things.
Concluding the program in April was local artist Frances Gobbi. Gobbi’s deep connections to the community resonated throughout the projects she took on during the residency. Gobbi worked with municipal partners to develop a strategy for murals in the downtown core. The artist took the opportunity to “dream bigger than the walls of her living room”, having a studio space for the first time in her career.
Building on the momentum of the residency, the storefront space we occupied over 8 months became a temporary exhibition space for a dynamic new project based on the work of Assistant Curator, Caitlin Chaisson. Throughout the project, Justin Langlois had been working closely with Assistant Curator Caitlin Chaisson through a BCAC-supported mentorship, which enabled Chaisson to develop Far Afield, an ongoing curatorial initiative that supports experimental research, publications, exhibitions, community engagement, and emergent practices in regional communities in British Columbia. The first iteration of this project, Disturbances in the Field, was another major outcome of this project, and was exhibited in the storefront studio in May.
We can look back over the 6 months of development and 8 months of activity of the Neighbourhood Time Exchange : Prince George and see a number of incredible outcomes and effects that unfolded in a generative, social and highly located process of exploration and development. Working in the context of Prince George was an amazing opportunity for learning, mapping, and exploring that has played an integral role in shaping our understanding of the community and framing a number of subsequent projects and partnerships.
We were able to build an incredible team within Emily Carr that has become a model for how we can engage and support faculty while developing new knowledge and expertise in how we can work through the lens of Living Labs. We were able to develop this project in a highly collaborative process that had clear divisions in terms of being led on the artistic side by Justin Langlois and on the production side by Kate Armstrong and Laura Kozak but that was a highly iterative, cooperative, and dialogue-driven process.
The nine artists themselves were the ‘living layer’ of project activity, and were of course pivotal in how the project unfolded. There were multiple points where the artists themselves worked to break down barriers by opening up the space for other groups in the community to use. In addition to the six original community partners, seventy-seven other artists, musicians, poets, societies, and clubs took part in using the downtown studio as a place to exhibit work, perform, meet, or organize. In just eight months, the program resulted in ten community projects and over sixty public-facing events, drawing over one thousand visitors.
These activities form a direct link to the unexpected but perhaps ultimate outcome of this work: inviting the community to participate in “long-form placemaking” in a temporary context led to the storefront space becoming a permanent, locally run artist run centre – the Omineca Arts Centre.
In the early spring of 2017 with the end of the Neighbourhood Time Exchange in view, Living Labs began to work with an emergent team of local artists, curators and musicians – including Roanne Whitticase, Evann Campbell, Jennifer Annaïs Pighin, Meghan Hunter-Gauthier, Adam Harasimiuk, Rob Budde, and Danny Bell – on a plan to transition the space into an independently operated artist run centre. We worked with the Omineca team over the course of the past year, supporting the group with mentorship and resources to get the project off the ground.
The Omineca Arts Centre launched in May with an interdisciplinary mandate to facilitate collaboration and diversify opportunities for emerging and professional artists, performers, community organizations, indigenous and cultural groups, and citizens in Northern B.C. Through Omineca, the space will stay grounded in partnership with Emily Carr and Two Rivers Gallery as well as with multiple other points of connection in the City of Prince George.
The Neighbourhood Time Exchange serves as both a model and an invitation to think about how communities and artists can work together in mutually beneficial ways. The relationships and connections formed throughout the residency empowered and strengthened existing community self-advocacies. The legacy of the project is one that provokes citizens, artists, and community leaders to think about how we can approach solutions to problems through mutual aid, and how to continue to generate resilient and supportive communities far into the future.