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LETTER: Craighurst Public Art Project raises questions

Feds forking over money for project, but it still must be completed to a high standard, reader says
New Craighurst Gateway Signage - Township of Oro-Medonte
Photo provided by the Township of Oro-Medonte

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). This letter is in response to news of the Township of Oro-Medonte receiving funding for the Craighurst Public Art Project, published June 12.
Trees as art and roots of history.

Who doesn’t enjoy trees in one way or another? They’re great providers of shade, fruits, maple syrup, animal habitat, lumber, firewood, etc. In my mind, trees are sculptural and beautiful in their natural state, so the notion of replicating them in steel as a form of art captured my attention. My interest was also piqued as this is Oro-Medonte’s first foray into public art with the tree sculpture project in Craighurst. Hopefully, it’s not a misadventure as public art is often a Pandora’s Box.

Don’t get me wrong. I support public art — works that are creative, engaging, reflect a degree of intelligence and esthetics, are original, qualitative and thought provoking. And as it should be, those who encounter art in its various forms discuss and have an opinion on it. Orillia’s Champlain Monument, the Gordon Lightfoot piece, the farmers' market fruits and Barrie’s Spirit Catcher and Love Barrie waterfront sign, not art per se, all draw attention and opinion. What pleases some angers and disappoints others, especially when the art form in question is paid for with taxpayer dollars.

In an effort to emulate the success of Orillia’s long-running Streets Alive program, the township’s tree sculptures will be installed at several locations in Craighurst. And as Mayor Hughes said, they will differ only in how the “palettes for local talented artists create reflections of our beautiful rural community,” provide “a cultural experience for local residents and visitors to the area,” and ”offer a reflection of the four seasons of beauty and recreation found in Oro-Medonte while incorporating the community’s culture and history.”

This $40,000 project is possible through federal government funding, and although the township has no skin in the game it will own the sculptures. Freebies always sound great but the curious amongst us probably have a few questions following the fanfare. The hopeful answers (HA) below involve some speculation on the part of this writer and the reader:

Q: Who is co-ordinating the project, established the tree concept as appropriate and created the non-descript shape in steel? HA: Not a township committee and not from clip art.

Q: Who will judge and select from the potential artists’ concept submissions? HA: A panel of professional artists looking for more than amateurish versions of the African church, coloured leaves, skiers, snowmobilers, bicyclists, frogs, etc., painted on the steel surfaces.

Q: How will the $40,000 be spent? Speculative A: The steel fabrication and installation will take the biggest bite. The ”talented local artists” will be unpaid as no commissions or monetary awards were stated.

Q: Oro-Medonte will own the sculptures. How will frequently overlooked maintenance and repair costs be covered? HA: A budget and provision in the township’s insurance.

An outdoor public art project like this involves more than what meets the eye. (Ouch.) It’s a significant investment that is likely to be around for quite a while, so, pragmatically, it needs to be engaging, relevant, professionally executed, and properly maintained. The fact that township residents are not paying for this project directly doesn’t mean that it should be anything less. It needs to have many values beyond its cost. Best wishes to all involved.

Allan Baker