Keynote - Steve Kurtz: When Aesthetics is Not Enough by Jenn E Norton

Art Gallery of Ontario, Jackman Hall
Thursday, May 18th at 7:00 - 8:30pm

We are thrilled to welcome artist, educator, and cultural instigator Steve Kurtz for a keynote talk to launch the Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium.

Kurtz is one of the founding members of the internationally acclaimed art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), a collective of various specializations—including digital imaging and web design, wetware, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance—dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, political activism, and critical theory. On numerous occasions, and over the course of many decades, CAE's work has provoked authorities. By applying art to service critical activism, they are pioneers in the areas interventionist practices, and cultural research and action in the field of biotechnology and ecological struggle.  

For three decades CAE has produced and exhibited art that examines questions surrounding information and communication technologies, biotechnologies, and ecological struggle, interested in resisting and interfering with the more authoritarian aspects of culture and injustice of capitalism.

The collective has performed and produced a wide variety of projects for an international audiences at venues ranging from the street, to the museum, to the internet, and has been invited to exhibit and perform in many of the world’s leading cultural institutions, including The Whitney Museum and the The New Museum in NYC; the Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C.; the ICA, London; the MCA, Chicago and Documenta.

An emeritus professor of art at SUNY Buffalo, and former professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, Kurtz has also given several lectures in renowned institutions such as MIT, and TED talks:


The story of Kurtz's charges on suspicioun of bioterrorism 2004 is told in the film Strange Culture, 2007, by filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson. It focuses on Kurtz' art, character, and interaction with law enforcement. Kurtz's supporters are convinced that it was an intentional attempt to punish an artist who is critical of the government's authoritarian tendency. Strange Culture premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival in 2007. Kurtz's arrest also served as inspiration for the novel Orfeo by Richard Powers.



CAE has published several publications, including Disturbances, a self-assessment of the group’s 25-year history, examining the environmental, political, and bio-technological themes of their various initiatives; . The Concerns of a Repentant Galtonian, 2012 on the misuse of biologically based analogies and rhetorics over the past century; Mythic Weapons and State Propaganda, 2009  about how the US government uses weapon systems (real, exaggerated, or fantasized) to scare or calm the public; and Nomadic Power and Cultural Resistance, Electronic Civil Disobedience & Other Unpopular Ideas, 1992Their its writings have been translated into eighteen languages, are anti-copywrite, and available for free on their website.

CAE has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2007 Andy Warhol Foundation Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of Artistic Expression Grant, the 2004 John Lansdown Award for Multimedia, and the 2004 Leonardo New Horizons Award for Innovation.

In this lecture, Steve Kurtz will examine the difficulties of producing and deploying art in the public sphere that moves beyond monumentality and/or decoration. In a time of crisis across all the global orders (financial, military, political, and environmental), Kurtz will argue that it is incumbent upon artists to assist in any way they can in the opening of public space, in creating shared platforms of expression, and in creating assemblies (both social and mechanical) through which discourse, debate, and direct action in pursuit of social and environmental justice can emerge.

We do hope you'll join us for Kurt's keynote, presented in conjunction with The Art Gallery of Ontario, which opens the Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working Symposium. 

Registration guarantees a place. See the full schedule and register here.

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The Uncertain Places of Sans façon by Jenn E Norton

"Our relationship to place is a strange one: why is it that a feeling or memory about a particular place or time can be more vivid than others? How do significant, and seemingly insignificant, moments lodge within our sense of self? Is it possible that a certain place or experience, no matter how small, can define part of who we are?" 

-from the didactic of sans façon 's Jasmine from Grasse at the esker foundation 2016-2017

We are very excited to welcome Sans façon to the Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium on Friday, May 19th, on the Artists and City Building panel.

Led by Charles Blanc and Tristan Surtees, Sans façon is an award-winning art practice focused less on outcomes and more on the processes and relationships of making public art. Working internationally and Calgary-based, Sans façon takes on public art projects that allow them time to respond to a context, developing works that participate in a discourse with the city.

“Artists are good at asking questions, and they bring a quality of exploration to any situation. That is what excites us" Tristan Surtees, Sans façon

Their projects are realized through networks of communities, organizations, and individuals. With projects ranging from ephemeral performances to permanent works, Sans façon see the role of the artist and of art as a catalyst in a process of raising questions and inviting one to look and think differently, and their practice represents an important shift in public art practice, the spectrum of public art, and how public artists work.



Beginning in 2009, Watershed+ is a city-wide program with The City of Calgary’s Utilities and Environment Protection department, and the Public Art Program. The project's guiding motive is to embed, not so much the artist, as their process within Water Services and Water Resources, and to create an emotional relationship between citizens and their watershed. Since then, Watershed+ has grown to encompass more than 20 initiatives, plus three 18-month mentorships as well as rotating artist residencies. Some of the projects included Fire Hydrant Drinking Fountains and Forest Lawn Lift Station.

"[It’s] experienced not in an explanatory or didactic way, but more by creating intrigue for people to want to know more about what’s happening around them."

Cacher pour mieux montrer (which translates as “Hide to show better”), was a temporary public artwork developed for Saskatoon's Public Art program where the duo covered public sculptures in the city of Saskatoon in a smooth industrial shrink-wrap, and in doing so, invited questioning and intrigue about the presence and function of public art in our cities, but also about the individual sculpture temporarily hidden from sight.


Smell, a sense that is strongly and directly connected to our long-term memory, uniquely allows us to access past places, experiences, and emotions through the faintest association. Their project Jasmine from Grasse at The Esker Foundation, was an invitation to journey to a specific moment in someone else’s life through an olfactory encounter. Sans façon, with the help of Professor of Psychology, Glen Bodner, and Master Perfumer, Irene Schnell, faithfully recreated the scent of a place and time drawn from the individual memories of six members from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, generously allowing participants to share in the intimacy of a long ago moment through its particular scent.


Other projects have included public art masterplans for Seattle CSO system, and City of Calgary UEP Department; new work exploring light in urban spaces, in Marl, Germany, for the 2017 edition of Urban lights Ruhr; Gathering Place, a permanent interventions for the City of Inverness, Scotland; Limelight: Saturday Night, an international light installation and video work exploring the potential of public spaces by expanding the role of urban lighting, replacing street lighting with theater follow-spots in fifteen cities around the world.


Limelight: Saturday Night, an international light installation and video work exploring the potential of public spaces by expanding the role of urban lighting, replacing street lighting with theatre follow-spots in fifteen cities around the world.

Through their work, Sans façon has produced significant impact by centring process, giving artists an opportunity to work with issues that are integral to the thinking around city systems and place-making, and championing risk.

“Not knowing exactly what you’re going to get in the end is vital. That’s a level of unknown, of educated risk.”

-Tristan Surtees, Sans façon

Although public art processes are often quite rigorous and predetermined, for Sans façon, and many artists working today, it is that very risk that lies at the heart of what makes art vital.



Sans façon will be joined by Michael McClelland from ERA Architects, artists Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins, Jonah Letovsky, Westbank Corp and Bryan Newson, the former Public Art Program Manager of the City of Vancouver, alongside moderator Helena Grdadolnik, Public Art Consultant and Director, Workshop Architecture, for a panel Discussion on Artists and City Building, Friday, May 19th at 1:00pm. 

You can register for the symposium here.

KEYNOTE: Cameron Cartiere and The Manifesto of Possibilities: Commissioning Public Art in Urban Environments by Jenn E Norton


The ways in which public art is commissioned in this country determine the kind of public art we get. Dr. Cameron Cartiere is a leader in an unconventional model of public art and curatorial practice. Rather than storming the front gates to bring about radical change, Cartiere is a leader in "back door radicalism". It's a long term process, but one that she hopes will create sustainable and profound changes, one cup of coffee at a time. Because change is really about bringing people (a lot of people) to the table for a conversation about choice, action, and outcome. 

Dr. Cartiere believes the perspectives represented by public art commissioning processes are far too narrow. How could any singular voice represent all that is public art? So, in 2005, Cartiere started thinking about the possibility of a manifesto for commissioning public art. She began by researching the history of manifestos, which often began in a bar, with one or two people hammering out their ideas, and then printing them up and sending them out into the world. Three years later, about 400 individual voices contributed to the creation of The Manifesto of Possibilities. The manifesto has since seen a global distribution of over 50,000 copies.  

We are very excited to welcome Dr. Cameron Cartiere as a keynote speaker in the upcoming Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium. A curator and researcher specializing in public art, community engagement, urban renewal, and environmental issues, Dr. Cartiere is also the author of RE/Placing Public Art, co-editor of The Practice of Public Art and The Everyday Practice of Public Art: Art, Space, and Social Inclusion, co-author of the Manifesto of Possibilities: Commissioning Public Art in the Urban Environment, and co-editor of the journal, Public Art Dialogue

Have a look below at The Manifesto of Possibilities! And join us for Dr. Cartiere's talk on Friday, May 19th at 4:30pm at the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts (map)

You can register for the symposium here.



The Commissioning Process

    • Commissioning organizations should agree on a strategic public art plan or policy that outlines why they are commissioning public art before commissions are considered. Commitment and support for public art should be demonstrated throughout the organization. These plans/policies should serve as guidelines but not dictate the content or stifle the creative process.

    • Public and private regeneration bodies should invest in training and guidance for commissioners, planners, communities and artists about the different ways of working with art in the public realm.

    • There is no definitive or single ‘right way’ of creating art for the public realm. The commissioning process needs to recognize the diversity in approaches, interests and skills of artists and reflect this in the aims and objectives of the project.

    • Clarify at which stage of the planning process artists should be employed. Acknowledge that some artists prefer to be involved at an early stage.

    • Acknowledge the various partners and stakeholders involved and how they will work together (eg. architects, planners, artists, educators, other professionals, community members). The roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the commissioning process should be clarified from the onset and need to be expressed in a universally acknowledged and accepted form of contract.

    • Public art is not a universal problem solver for poor urban design or a magic formula to solve social injustice. It needs to be recognized that good public art is not a single substitute for good public policy.

    • Public art commissions should be driven by the unique context of a given project rather than overly prescriptive or generic briefs.

    • The commissioning process should allow room for and learn from rejection, refusal and negation of the commission by artists and other stakeholders.

The Artist

    • If specific proposals for public art are requested in advance, artists should be paid appropriately for the time spent on site visits and developing the proposal.

    • While a request for qualifications is an excellent process to narrow the field of potential artists in an open call, the review of previously completed work should not be the only basis for developing a public art project. Where appropriate, sponsoring opportunities for ‘first time’ public artists will allow for the continued expansion of creativity and artistic vision within the public art field.

    • Assumptions should not be made about artists based solely on previous work. Commissioners should remain open to the possibilities of artists developing new approaches and creating original works.

    • Artists working in the public realm need to be acknowledged and paid as professionals on a par with other members of the team, such as architects and designers.

The Curator

    • The curatorial role in public art commissioning needs to be recognised as supporting, co-producing and overseeing negotiation and artistic vision, from the concept to completion of a public art project.

    • Curators need to have access to funders and stakeholders to develop a working relationship throughout the commissioning process. The curator can ensure a balance is struck between risk and risk management enabling innovation and experimentation.

    • Investment in curatorial training and mentoring of public art administrators will help to facilitate creativity throughout the administrative process. Simply changing one’s title from ‘administrator’ to ‘curator’ is not an acceptable substitute for proper training and curatorial expertise.

The Community

  • The community’ (or ‘the public’) is not a uniform group of people. Every project based in a community needs to be aware of the specific audiences the work is intended for. These audiences may be particular age groups, ethnicities, economic backgrounds and/or communities of interest. Acknowledgement of who the public artwork or project is for and why should be transparent. There may be different audiences at different stages of the project.

  • Artists work with communities but not subsequently for them. The role of the artist is not necessarily to create communities but rather to make connections.

The Art

  • Public art is NOT a single art form. There are a multitude of approaches, methods and motivations for public art. Acknowledge and celebrate the depth and breadth of the field.

  • There is cultural value in commissioning temporary public art. The effects can be as dramatic, significant and sustainable as permanent works.

  • Public art is often placed in the precarious position of trying to address all stakeholders’ agendas and needs – recognise the limitations and possibilities of public art. Be ambitious but realistic. Remember, "context remains half the work" (originally stated by the Artists Placement Group in the 1960s).

The Evaluation

  • Evaluation should be integral to the process, embedded from the beginning, providing productive suggestions as a qualitative tool and NOT a pre-emptive checklist.

  • Acknowledge the varying notions of risk. Identify the different criteria for success and allow time for understanding these differences.

  • Evaluation should be transparent and honest.

  • Evaluation should recognise failure and the potential lessons that can be learned.

  • The evaluation process is not limited to the art; it can also include the stakeholders and the commissioning process itself.

  • Current timescales for evaluation are too short. There is a need for long-term investment in evaluation. The sustained ‘value’ of public art needs time to reveal itself. This is a process that may take years. Therefore the aim of evaluation should be informative rather than reactionary.

  • Evaluation is most effective when information is disseminated and shared. Commissioners should make publicly available evaluations, debates and archives of public art projects.