As a practicing socially engaged artist, I have directly experienced the impact my work has had on a community and the individuals that live there. Our Great Art for Great Lakes (GAGL) initiative gives artists across Ontario the opportunity to directly connect with the public and create a lasting impact within their respective communities to inspire those around them, and specifically, to shape and construct our relationship with the Great Lakes upon which we all rely.

Artists play a critical role in enabling the public to connect and reflect upon the often forgotten importance of the Great Lakes in our daily lives. With GAGL—through a socially engaged, participatory project led by a local artist—a platform is built where the public is integral to the project, dialogue, and creation of the final work. By engaging the public throughout the creation of the artwork, you are in practice creating a connection and long lasting bond to the artwork, and by extension, our waters. The extended installation period of each final work truly allows for a protracted narrative of the Great Lakes, and allows both the artist and the community participating to deeply understand the impact of their actions.

The aesthetics of collaboration points to a process where co-creating is paramount, and the local narrative is accessible as a common ground, all while working within the desire for beauty and empowerment. This process of uniting diverse experiences and knowledge culminates in the production of visually powerful artwork that is concrete in stating the participant’s involvement, and pride of creation. Collaboration is about listening and speaking to one another. The act of dialogue is an integral part of the final artwork truly operating alongside the object. The object will only become fully successful through that dialogue it has initiated.

Art and social function, as discussed by Stephen Willats, “[Is] the realization that all art is dependent on society–dependent on the relationships between people,” and that is a “culture founded on networks of exchange, fluidity, transience, and mutuality.” Great Art for Great Lakes embraces these methods in order to create a framework for public art that stimulates the sense of celebration and ownership. If we are to contribute to a sustainable future, we need to move beyond the established binaries in order to develop new processes, new uses, and new ways of understanding how we are, in ways we experience everyday, connected to the Great Lakes and the fresh water.

I encourage anyone reading this to inspire and be inspired by the contagious and powerful energy that collaborative art can bring to a community, and join us as a participant, artist, listener and friend of the Great Lakes.

– Christopher McLeod, Project Lead, Great Art for Great Lakes


Stay tuned for next week’s blog—Kate Panchal, Greatness/Waterlution Research and Social Media guru—gives us her Top 10 Things To Do in the Great Lakes Basin This Spring!