Great Art for Great Lakes

8 Public art project in 8 communities.

The intent of the Great Art for Great Lakes project was to emphasize the collaborative and collective magnitude of the Great Lakes through participatory, socially engaged art projects. 

Notions of empowerment and sustainability, with the goal of creating a platform for continued enriched dialogue and ownership where foundational to the projects selected and commissioned. Each project worked to prioritize community dialog about the Great Lakes and what they mean to its people. Participation from the public and the artist in co-creating a community-based, Great Lakes-themed artwork - under the direction of the artist - was our goal. 

As the Project Lead for Great Art for Great Lakes 2017, I'm excited to share the success found within each of the communities and the new public artworks created. Below is an overview of the 8 completed projects, the processes used for public engagement, and the artists that made it happen.

Project website:

Mookibii. John Williams. Acrylic on Canvas. 96"x66". 2017

This project started with a community workshop held at Maawn Doosh Gumig Community Centre. Approx. 120 participants contributed in creation of the painting.


Lake Ontario Portrait. Nicole Clouston. Wall relief, acrylic prisms & mud. 36”w x 73” h.

The Hamilton project started with an Ice Cream social at the central Branch of the Public Library on 100in1 Day. We had a Water Matrix ultra-high efficiency toilet give away, reps from BARC, Environment Hamilton, Downtown BIA, Hamilton Water in attendance, and of course, gave away free Foundry Ice Cream.

The participatory maker workshop happened on the street outside the library during SuperCrawl. Approx. 60 people directly participated in 15-20 minute sessions of filling the prisms with mud.


Aqua Viva. Andy berg. Ceramic wall relief, steel. 93”w x 104”h

Kingston got underway with a large party in the Malting Tower at the Tett Centre. The room was at capacity as we offered a space to discuss Lake Ontario while 5 local chefs served food, music played, and free Water Matrix ultra high efficiency toilets were given away by Kingston Utilities.

Then Andy hosted 2 community events. The 1st was a water walk along the shores of Lake Ontario. 2nd was a ceramic workshops with participants creating the ceramic pieces for the piece.


Mi Lake. Vanessa Logan. Live edge wood and glass sculpture. 22”w x 72”h x 16”d

The opening for Mississauga was at the Mississauga Water Front Festival. For the entire weekend, Vanessa offered a workshop offering the public an opportunity to contribute to the piece. Approx. 200 people contributed. Councillor Jim Tovey, Peel Water, as well as Chef Ken from Nelly James serving free Lake Ontario fish joined in over the weekend.


Owen Sound
The Ripple Project. Julia White
 Steel & wood sculpture, laser cut. Led lights. Base 24”w x 60”h x 48”L

Julia hosted 2 community ‘ripple’ maker events held at Meaford and Owen Sound Farmers markets. Working directly with the public exploring connections to the lake is what creates the shapes within the final work.


Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island

Stories of the Lake. Julieanne SteedmanAluminum sculpture. 
Plasma cut with exterior decals. 70”w x 82:h x 10”d

We hosted 1 community workshop on Canada Day, and Julieanne led 2 community ‘coffee’ sessions collecting stories and discussing the history and importance of the lake.


Thunder Bay

Threading Water. Betty Carpick
 Assemblage. Wall mounted, mixed media. 132 squares. 72”w x 65”h

Thunder Bay began during Live on the Waterfront and featured free Prime Gelato andworkshop 1 with Betty. 5 additional community ‘quilting’ sessions involved 15-25 participants in 30-60 minute sessions were held in various locations around the city. Approx. 150 participants got involved in directly working with Betty.


Deep Blue. Labspace
 Site-specific ceiling installation. 2000 paper origami & suspension system.

With over 2200 participants working at the Ontario Science Centre to create the origami pieces needed for the work, this is truly a participatory project. 5 maker events were held at the Ontario Science centre to accommodate the volume of people needed.


Wrap Up

As we wrap up Great Art for Great Lakes 2017 it is time to review and reflect on the project as a whole, and the 8 individual communities and artists involved. It is with great excitement that I look upon the new public art works installed in Aamjiwnaang, Hamilton, Kingston, Mississauga, Owen Sound, Providence Bay, Thunder Bay, and Toronto as they continue to operate within those Great Lakes Communities. A new public space for connecting with the Great Lakes exists now where it had not existed previously – a new place to consider our past roles, and future responsibilities when it comes to these fresh water bodies.

With equal excitement, the memories of the artist led public workshops, and the thousands of private experiences created, leaves me feeling thrilled about the effectiveness of participatory, dialogical art practices. These experiences, combined with the remaining object, have lasting effect on those involved. In the Call for Proposals, we were very clear on emphasizing the collaborative and the collective magnitude of the Great Lakes within all of the projects. Artists needed to prioritize community dialog about the Great Lakes and what the Great Lakes means to its people. Participation from the public and the artist in co-creating a community-based, Great Lakes-themed artwork - under the direction of the artist – was our goal.

Participatory Art isn’t created in the solitary space of the artist studio, but out among neighbours, friends, and family. For GAGL 2017, that is exactly what we found in each of the 8 communities - those that understood the overwhelming need to celebrate our Great Lakes with all we have available. Without everyone coming together, these types of projects would simply not work. So thank you all! From our community partners, host sites, local businesses, volunteers, and the public who came out, showed up, and got involved.

And finally, to the 8 fantastic artists from each community that went above and beyond the details in the Call for Proposals. Few within a community are willing to put themselves out their on such a personal and professional level for the betterment of that community. Artists play such a vital role in so many facets of our daily lives, yet are seldom given the credit they deserve. It has been an honour working with each of the artists, seeing and being a part of their processes, and supporting them in their practices. Until we meet again.

Christopher McLeod

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christopher, Sandra Bray here. We met at an Ontario SEED grant application coaching session in Guelph a few days back and I am just now getting caught up on some fun stuff. This great Lakes Project looks fantastic! The degree of community involvement, the beauty of the created works, the inspired activities. I was blown away.
    I live up stream, in Elmira, ON, on the Canagagigue Creek, which feeds into the Grand River. If you are ever doing a related project I would be thrilled to participate. We had a community event a few years back where we made a jumping speckled trout out of collected tin can lids. (
    Keep up the good work!!