A Minor Rant

Copyright 2016, Public Art of Toronto. All rights reserved.

Unknown, unknown
Located: 500 Bay Street. Artist: Unknown
Commissioned by: Ontario Federation of Labour (assumed)
Copyright 2016, Public Art of Toronto. All rights reserved.

lsp-mapWhen I write about a piece of art, a statue, or mural, I expect to do some research. The truth of the matter is I don’t know the difference between abstract art and surrealism. I am certainly not an art scholar, so research is just par for the course. I accept and embrace the challenge of learning about these things as part of developing this blog.

As a result, Google is my friend.

So when I came across the above installation in Larry Sefton Park, I wasn’t particularly concerned when there was no information on the piece located nearby. The only clue I had was written on the statue: “Mourn for the Dead. Fight for the Living. Ontario Federation of Labour”. I figured at the very least the OFL would have some sort of reference to the work in on their website.

Nope! Not a thing.

I recognize the motto. “Mourn for the Dead. Fight for the Living” references the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job which leads me to believe this is a memorial. But who is it memorializing? There is no mention if this installation is a general statement of remembrance or references a particular tragedy. The artist put in a substantial effort, and yet there is no mention of them either. These aren’t the only two considerations. Who raised the money? Their fundraising work should be mentioned. How long has it has the piece been there? Given Larry Sefton worked for the United Steelworkers of America, the addition of this piece makes sense, but what is its history?

One of the key roles of public art is to educate the public. That’s why it’s so important to provide context to an installation. Failing to do so is a serious oversight on the part of the organizer. Without context, there is no way to engage with the viewer, no way to make a statement or generate ongoing interest. It’s like giving a speech into a microphone with the sound system turned off.

Then there is the physical location. It hasn’t been landscaped for a while. Someone made a poor attempt at cleaning off some graffiti  but it’s by no means a thorough or complete job. If the city doesn’t have the resources to do more than the minimum needed for upkeep, you as an organizer of the installation need to step up. It needn’t be expensive. I’m sure in this case it could be done in an afternoon with a small group of volunteers, fifty dollars in plants, and a pressure washer.

If you are going to put in the effort to create a piece of public art, you can’t install  it and forget about it. You need to plan for ongoing maintenance. You should also put in the effort to identify and credit those involved in its creation. To do anything less is disrespectful. The people who funded the work deserve better. The artist who created the piece deserves better. The people who you are commemorating, living or dead, most certainly deserve better.

I will be writing to the OFL to see what they have to say about this piece and I’ll report back as to what they say.

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