City Hall gets to art of the matter
Orange flames appear to pierce the black and white burn pile photographed and hanging at St. Catharines City Hall.
“It’s glowing inside,” said artist and digital photographer Craig Maclean, describing the image he spotted in a friend’s rural backyard. “It has a volcanic feel to it.”
While that’s his take, Maclean said viewers seeing The Fire Inside at the new exhibit should interpret it any way they want.
The 52-year-old St. Catharines resident is one of 17 artists whose works were chosen for Art me Up Goes to City Hall, inspired by Mayor Walter Sendzik’s Compassionate City initiative.
The juried exhibit, which opened on the third floor Wednesday, features original artwork by Expressions Art Collective through Start Me Up Niagara. The charitable organization helps people having a tough time in their lives by offering opportunities to increase their employment, community integration and housing supports.
Having a piece hanging at City Hall is a feat Maclean, who suffers from depression and anxiety, said he didn’t expect.
“It’s a little overwhelming but in a good way. I never would have imagined I’d be here with all these people. I’m grateful, not just for me but for all the other artists,” he said.
“Without Start Me Up, doing something like this would be impossible. When you’re dealing with depression and anxiety, you’re in a bubble.”
Maclean said he was introduced to Start Me Up about two years ago through ODSP so he could learn more about selling his photos through its entrepreneurship program.
He said Start Me Up has encouraged him to promote his work and to promote it with the issues he deals with, rather than hiding them. He said he’s not afraid to share his challenges and hopes it will encourage others to do so too.
“Exclusion and isolation are big problems for large segments of the population in St. Catharines,” said Susan Venditti, executive director of Start Me Up Niagara.
She said it’s very affirming for artists to have their pieces hanging in city hall. “It does so much on a person-building level. It just feels good.”
Plus, she said, it’s nice art.
Sendzik said the city is trying to create an environment in which people feel city hall is theirs.
“This is your city hall,” he told those gathered for the opening of Art Me Up. “This is your home. This is your place.”
He said the exhibit is putting the compassionate city concept into a visual display. People in the community will appreciate the talents of the artists as they walk the corridor to access council chambers for meetings or civic weddings.
“If this is what a compassionate community can look like and feel like, I think Mayor Walter Sendzik is on the right track,” Venditti told those gathered. “Start Me Up is about building a community where everyone has a place.”
The original 81-piece Art Me Up exhibit was on display at Niagara Artists Centre in February. Some of the works from that show were chosen for the city hall exhibit. Additional artworks from the exhibit are on display at Fine Grind Cafe at 37 James St. until June 25.
Art Me Up Curator Aaron Wagner, the arts program facilitator at Start Me Up, said when the artists heard Sendzik wanted the exhibit at city hall, everyone was excited.
“They were already empowered going into real galleries. Now that it’s going on government properties, they’re all kind of losing it,” he joked.
Wagner said he’s looking into other opportunities for Art Me Up exhibitions and an art crawl downtown is in the works.
Art Me Up Goes to City Hall runs until November. It’s sponsored by Canadian Tire Financial Services and Walker Environmental Group.
Lori-ann Smith created a needlepoint with wool called Council in Colour, which shows St. Catharines and its wards.
“I was shocked when I got picked. I’ve never done one like this,” she said, explaining she usually makes lampshades for babies’ rooms that she sells at churches and Harvest Festival on Queenston Street.
The 53 year old has been doing needlepoint since she was 18 but making a piece for the wall was something new.
“It’s great. It feels good. It turned out really good.”
Photo: The atrium at St. Catharines City Hall was filled to capacity as the Art Me Up opened up Wednesday May 25, 2016. The collection features 17 artists whose creations came to life n the face of significant challenges in life. Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network