Story Seeker: Melanie Fernandez
People interviewed: Enza Apa (artist) and Nicole Fougère, artsPlace
Interview dates: July 29, 2021 and August 23, 2021
artsPlace is a community arts centre based in Canmore, Alberta that is proud to proclaim itself as “a phenomenal gathering ground”. Located in the Bow Valley, the centre offers residents and visitors a place to gather, discover, explore, and celebrate the arts and culture through classes, workshops, camps, live performances, films, exhibits, and community events. The centre houses a number of creative spaces, including a visual arts studio, ceramics studio, fabrication studio, the Hub Gallery, and a black box theatre.
artsPlace’s vision is of “a Bow Valley in which all residents participate in the arts and appreciate creativity as a vital part of their daily lives.” The centre is dedicated to storytelling through a variety of media, and works to actively engage residents and visitors with the stories.
artsPlace hosted artist Enza Apa’s travelling exhibition “Good Luck/Bad Luck/Who Knows?”, which got its start in Canmore as a quiet intervention and installation project in its pandemic initiative, Curbside Museum. The Curbside Museum’s website notes that it is:
a small exhibition space tucked in a fence along a public sidewalk…. Exhibitions at this micro museum explore ideas both large and small, on subjects factual or fictional, and range from the whimsical to the serious, with no limits except what fits within the museum itself. Founded in 2017 and curated by Enza Apa, the Curbside Museum is an ongoing project with new exhibits every 7-8 weeks. The Curbside Museum is open every day, all day.
The Innovation: Moving the inside out
The Curbside Museum was conceived by artist Enza Apa as a way to engage with her neighbourhood. With a background in museology and exhibit design, Enza wanted to challenge the museum construct and make everyday objects and stories “precious”. What started as a small personal project outside her home grew into a larger community-engaged project through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts’ Travelling Exhibition Program (TREX), which facilitates curation and travelling exhibitions throughout Alberta.
Through the TREX program, Curator Danielle Ribar from the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie collaborated with Enza, a multidisciplinary artist, to put together a new exhibition and a newly constructed museum. The “Good Luck/Bad Luck/Who Knows?” exhibition traveled alongside photos of prior thematic explorations and associated art objects.
When the travelling exhibition returned to her hometown of Canmore, Enza was keen to work with artsPlace to create educational programs and community engagement opportunities, but the COVID-19 pandemic hampered these plans. Enza worked with community members to create 10 exhibits in the Curbside Museum project while her exhibition of thematic photos was installed in the artsPlace main gallery inside the building.
Through her prior museological work and conversations, Enza noted that community members easily grasp the idea of “collections” and often dream of having their own museums. She believes that the simplicity of the Curbside Museum idea is what brings gravity to it. artsPlace deepened the engagement around the project by creating video materials and other supports. Enza was very pleased that the project returned to her home community and credits artsPlace for their open and engaged approaches and willingness for exploration during the pandemic. Accompanying the exhibitions were programs such as “story tours/walking tours”. Enza is proud to say that the “Curbside Museum is the only museum that was open in Western Canada during the pandemic”.
The Challenge: Working in outdoor spaces
Enza faced significant challenges related to creating exhibits in outdoors spaces. For example, summer heat and winter cold have severe impacts on installations, lighting, and other technical aspects. She tested ideas to see what would work and what would endure weather conditions and other challenges related to exhibits in public space.
She also found the exhibition schedule demanding due to the continuous turnover and is considering extending the exhibition run periods so there are fewer exhibitions per year.
The Financials: An idea that grew from artist to institution
The exhibitions were self-funded until Enza’s application to the Travelling Exhibition Program successfully secured funding for the project for a three-year period. During this time, the project travelled around the province, including to small and rural communities.
Subsequent to the TREX funding, the Town of Canmore’s Building Neighbourhoods Project provided support for the Curbside Museum, as well as eight other community projects.
Although the project did not directly generate much revenue, the installations and accompanying public engagement programming garnered significant public attention which was an advantage at a time when all public arts and cultural spaces remained closed. The curator and Enza hope that the project increased awareness of the institutions that hosted the exhibitions.
The Takeaway: A simple yet poignantly personal idea
During the pandemic, many people have struggled with issues related to isolation, anxiety, and mental and physical health. Enza’s Curbside Museum project enabled people to dream about their own collections, stories, and histories that illustrate their preciousness. With artsPlace, Enza was able to “play” with the notion of a museum and everyday objects. Enza hoped to “gift” the quiet installations to the community through the small interventions.
artsPlace was able to collaborate with the artist to expand the reach of the idea and make the Curbside Museum accessible through its public programming. The Town of Canmore supported community engagement through public art during the pandemic.
As noted in Enza’s Artist Statement:
There was no set agenda or theme for the exhibition, which makes each display feel like a tiny glimpse into the personal world of its creator. It’s an opportunity to “see” people up close, especially at a time where that friendly intimacy and connection isn’t always possible.
So, stay awhile, lean in close, and take a peek to warm your soul.