By Pan Wendt, Co-curator, Art in the Open
For the fifth year running, this August 29th from 4pm till midnight, downtown Charlottetown’s streets and parks will be enlivened by a one-day free visual art festival, Art in the Open. Featuring over 30 temporary sculptures and installations, performances, projections, and other ephemeral art projects, this event has become a popular fixture in the city, attracting thousands of viewers. This year’s theme is Signals, and many of the pieces are focused on the variety of ways we communicate and mediums we employ to send messages.
As one of the event’s organizers, I receive plenty of messages from the public, usually positive feedback about the festival. But I also hear some constructive criticism, and very often it focuses on viewers missing out on work, particularly scheduled performances, because they struggle to navigate and be in the right place at the right time. Some works are only present at night, some only during the day. Some performances only happen a few times, and so on.
In response to this, I usually mention that part of the point of Art in the Open is to enjoy the city in a different way, and come across some pieces unexpectedly. This is why we don’t use a lot of signage, but instead provide a small guidebook with a map, available this year the week of the festival at City Hall, Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Receiver Coffee Co.
That said, I’m glad to offer a suggested route that makes it possible to see almost all of the pieces (all of them if you are really ambitious and don’t mind walking approximately 5 kilometres!), and gives you a little bit of a preview of this year’s festival. So without further ado, here’s my suggestions on how to ‘Art in the Open’ in 2015:
4 pm – Start off downtown at 4 pm on Victoria Row, with the performance of Montreal artist Coral Short and Sarah Wendt’s Laughter Choir. After this it’s an ideal time to explore some of the downtown projects, including the family-oriented Creativity Project on Victoria Row and Paul Griffin’s Sarcophagus sculpture, a giant tree ornamented with a skin of galvanized nails, on the Confederation Centre Plaza in front of the Art Gallery entrance. And check out Coral Short’s mobile performance, Plush, as it walks about the Confederation Centre Plaza and Victoria Row any time between 6 and 7 pm. Another event is happening downtown that you might want to check out, the Fine Art and Craft market (Market on the Plaza, noon to 10pm) on the Confederation Centre Plaza, a great opportunity to meet some of the inspiring artists who call PEI home.
From downtown, head to Rochford Square, which includes several installations, including works by the Architects’ Association of P.E.I. And from there visit the area around Government Pond and Beaconsfield, where you can visit a mobile museum by Manitoba artist Andrew Milne, and experience the making of a tintype (a 19th century photographic medium) with Karen Stentaford, and an ongoing performance/installation by P.E.I. artist Nancy Cole. The Beaconsfield Assembly Dancers provide a demonstration from 7-8 pm. Or you can head along the path to Victoria Park, see Ahmon Katz’s sculpture and catch the final 7pm performance of Time Travel Theatre by Faye Pund and Leonard MacPherson, who present a historical reenactment with a comic twist, focused on surveyor Samuel Holland, who famously surveyed the Island in 1765 and produced a groundbreaking map that is currently on display at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.
Note: an alternative route would be to stay downtown and join the March of the Crows (a raucous parade of black-clad “crows”) that leaves the Grafton Street side of Province House at 7:30 pm and travels through the festival sites to arrive at Victoria Park at 8 pm. This means you miss some of the performances, but do get to experience the brilliance of traveling with the crows.
Check out the numerous installations around the front fields of Victoria Park, including Jerry Ropson’s flagpole works at Ford Edward Battery. At around 7:45 the park comes alive, with Mi’kmaq drumming and singing by the Lone Cry Singers, and the arrival of the cacophonous March of the Crows. As dusk falls, the 21 fires of Vancouver-based artist Scott Saunders (Field of Fire) will be lit, and Mi’kmaq Legends can be seen from bleachers behind the Victoria Park floral sign, starting at 8:15 (when the little crows settle down for a story).
Walking the woods of Victoria Park at night is always a highlight of Art in the Open. Explore the major sculptural pieces by Kent Senecal (look for a car hanging from a crane in the tennis courts’ parking lot) and Gerald Beaulieu (a 20-foot tall surprise we won’t spoil, hidden in a clearing in the woods), as well as new media installations and more sculpture. For a break from the hubbub, visit Monica Lacey’s interactive Cocoon. At 9:45 in the park (the bleachers behind the park sign), Coral Short and Sarah Wendt present another performance, Scream Choir.
Head back downtown to see some of the works that animate the city at night, including a projection-based installation by Carmen Belanger and Andy Reddin in Rochford Square, Damien Worth’s piece in the window of Receiver Coffee on Victoria Row, and Sandi Hartling’s piece in the non-fiction section of the Public Library at the Confederation Centre. Halifax artist Michael McCormack is presenting Beacon in the Grafton St. entrance of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, a work that receives and sends signals via ham radio. Signals sent by this piece will animate the city with sound and light at various locations downtown. And finally wander into the gallery to see the exhibitions and catch the 11pm surreal multimedia/dance performance by the Montreal-based Inflatable Deities.
This tour doesn’t capture everything in Art in the Open and I know you will discover other works along the way. Myself and the rest of the Art in the Open team hope you enjoy the amazing creativity on display, and the wonderful parks and public spaces of downtown Charlottetown!
Feature Image Photo Credit: Back to the Future by Gerald Beaulieu 2014, photo by Michael Wasnidge