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Artists engage community to spell out how to reimagine Windsor

A group of artists from the collective Broken City Lab were busily creating a new installation in a courtyard in Windsor’s downtown core Tuesday afternoon. Known as a ‘text intervention,’ it consisted of a series of 12-inch high styrofoam letters, placed vertically on the ground to spell out the phrase “Hello New Friends.”

It caught the attention of a passenger in a car cruising past on Ouellette Avenue, who stuck her head out the window and waved.

“Hello, new friends!” she happily yelled back at the group, while several curious passers-by stopped to inquire about what they were up to.

Those are the kinds of reactions members of the group have been getting accustomed to since they formed several years ago and started setting up around the city temporary, text-based installations that encourage citizens to think more creatively about how urban spaces are utilized, and to become engaged with the process of creating positive civic change.

The group recently received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, allowing it to open Civic Space, a new gallery located at 411 Pelissier Street. They’ll host an event there tonight to announce its opening, and to launch its first initiative called The Letter Library: A Collection of Alphabetic Interventions.

Designed to engage members of the community, people will be encouraged to come to the gallery and fill out a library card, allowing them to borrow some of their hundreds of styrofoam letters. They can take those letters to the location of their choice, set them up to spell out a creative message about what they’d like to see happen there, and take a picture of it. Those photos will be hung in the gallery, and then archived on Broken City Lab’s Web site.

Hiba Abdallah

Hiba Abdallah.

The only thing participants might be limited by is their own imaginations, said Hiba Abdallah, a recent graduate of the university’s School of Visual Arts and one of the project’s organizers

“To me, the important thing is how easy this is,” she said.  “You can do something fun and exciting, and it’s up to you how creative you get with it.”

The project’s aim is totally consistent with the goals of the Trillium Foundation funding, according to Justin Langlois, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and one of the founding members of Broken City Lab. Those goals include youth retention to keep promising artists in Windsor, and making art more accessible to the public.

“When people see this, they don’t think of it as art right away,” Langlois said. “This is an opportunity to take a conversation you may have been having about the city, its neighbourhoods, its spaces, its landscapes, out to the community and get them to reflect on it. Text gets you there quicker.”

“People will drive by these installations and say ‘I get that,’” added Sara Howie, a second-year visual arts student also involved in the project.

The project will be launched at 7 p.m. tonight, and all are welcome. Abdallah will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.

Read an article about Broken City Lab recently published in The Atlantic Cities.