Published on August 14, 2023

Supporting and sustaining public art for future generations

Evergreen’s new Institute for Public Art and Sustainability is tackling issues like equity, inclusivity and ecological resilience in the arts sector.

Public art is a catalyst for transformation. If that sounds a bit ambitious, just take a moment to consider its impact. Public art is multi-solving, contributing to vibrant public spaces, fostering community cohesion, amplifying marginalized viewpoints and nurturing wellbeing.


“Art contributes so much to public space,” says Jen Angel, Evergreen CEO. “It creates unique and personal learning experiences: a time, a story, a feeling, an idea. It is provocative and it brings a human quality to the built environment. Great public places must be filled with art.”


We’re driven by a commitment to positively impact individuals, communities and the planet, and we recognize the power of public art to achieve this. This was the motivation behind the recently launched Institute for Public Art and Sustainability (IPAS).


As an evolution of the Evergreen Public Art Program, IPAS combines research and practice to drive sustainability from both an ecological and arts community lens, with the goal of supporting and sustaining public art for future generations.


Addressing the challenge


For public art to truly be a lever for change in communities across Canada, we need to tackle the obstacles in the arts ecosystem.


That includes a lack of mentorship opportunities and pathways for emerging artists and artworkers; systemic barriers as well as physical and functional barriers to making public art; and even material waste in the arts. For all its benefits, we also know that public art produces vast amounts of material waste which ends up in landfills.


This means there are opportunities to address both the sustainability of the arts ecosystem and the sustainability of our natural ecosystem.


“Contemporary art is struggling for sustainability,” says Charlene K. Lau, Curator of Public Art Program at Evergreen. “There are these challenges of environmental degradation and the difficulty for racialized artists and artworkers to sustain themselves due to systemic barriers. Indigenous and racialized artists are still not appropriately represented on arts governing bodies in Canada.”


Sign that reads
The Artist Material Fund relocates material and diminishes waste produced in the art industry.


Shaping positive change


The solution is making public art more sustainable, equitable, and anti-colonial.


In efforts to build capacity, promote de-colonization and re-Indigenize the arts sector, IPAS is helping artists through mentorship opportunities, access to resources, pathways to employment and partnerships developed through the Institute.


“One of the obstacles to connecting people and places for art is predominantly the administrative aspect,” says Ange Loft, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) interdisciplinary performing artist and one of the Community Directors of IPAS. “I think the benefit of having these kind of programs and initiatives coming out of Evergreen is that they have the logistic capacity to be able to organize some of these works and some of these partnerships.


Since its launch, IPAS has hosted storytelling and artistic workshops, readings and guided tours. During the spring, IPAS partnered with the Artist Material Fund, a service that relocates material and diminishes waste produced in the art industry, while providing resources for artistic production. Over the course of a weekend, visitors could pick up free building materials, tools, equipment and supplies at Evergreen Brick Works.


Meanwhile, research produced through the Institute is exploring ecological sustainability issues and how the sector can address them. In May, the Synthetic Collective and Centre for Sustainable Curating at Western University completed a research residency at the Brick Works. One testimonial gathered by the organization during their residency was the originality of supporting public art research, rather than simply commissioning another work of public art.


Working together as community connectors


To help tackle these issues, IPAS operates as a co-governance model, consisting of seven Community Directors, including representatives from partner organizations like the Artist Material Fund, OCAD University’s Indigenous Visual Culture program and Synthetic Collective/Centre for Sustainable Curating.


“Working together is a core necessity of IPAS, and it’s clear that it’s the only way forward if we are to sustain our activities,” adds Lau. “As well, by gathering a circle of Community Directors, we are bringing in more voices and different lived experiences that will help us create a more fulsome understanding of this land and its multiple histories, and on it, a sense of belonging.”


Loft says she’s excited to bring in her network of on-the-ground artists and collaborators.


“I like the idea of making space for community leads,” she says. “Inviting in Indigenous artists to actually help shape and form the location and programming is really interesting to me. I’m also really intrigued by the notion to re-Indigenize and I’m looking forward to having deeper discussions about this.”


Learn more


Stay tuned for more information about the exciting work happening as part of Evergreen’s Institute for Public Art and Sustainability. Visit our website to learn more about our Public Art Program. Or, read more from Charlene K. Lau about how public art helps vitalize the built environment.


The Institute for Public Art and Sustainability is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.