Sidewalk painting of swirls surround the words "2m"

Spotlight: Placemaking And Inclusion With Cj Fleury

December 9, 2020

Welcome to the second in a series of profiles on the winners of this year’s Spotlight Recognition Program.

There are many barriers that limit people’s participation in arts and culture – 2020 in particular created unexpected challenges as well as new opportunities for accessible programming. This week, we’re looking at the winner of the Accessibility award.

Ontario Culture Days’ Lauren Eisen spoke with Cj Fleury, the Bruyère hospital organization’s artist-in-residence, about the Be Moved by Art program. They discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on her project, the importance of the arts in a hospital setting, and what it means to create art for, and with, the public.

Q: You’ve worked on so many wonderful public art projects and have collaborated with a variety of groups, from public school students to feminist lawyers. How does community engagement and collaboration play a role in your work? 

Cj:  I am totally an interdisciplinary artist, and have always been really interested in the ways public art touches people that are not in the fine art world. Since the mid-1990s, I’ve been working on large-scale projects that bring non-artists into deep artistic processes, exploring the idea of public space and who has access to it. My projects seek to aid people in their own “Aha!” moments; art-making enables people to have agency in shaping the world around them.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your role as Bruyère’s artist-in-residence? 

Cj: I view the hospital as a community. Saint-Vincent is the only complex care hospital in Ottawa, and it is part of a larger organization called Bruyère (external site), a multi-site academic health care organization. Dr. Carol Wiebe brought me in as the artist-in-residence, and after two years in that role I’ve come to see the hospital as its own village. 1,700 people go through that building in a given day, and it’s been really interesting to work with patients, volunteers, and staff across different departments.

My role has been to try and incorporate art into the daily experiences of those in the Saint-Vincent community. From creating the Atrium Art Bloomz to putting together shows, people had the option to do what they wanted to do, to learn and practice new skills, and to have their work included as part of larger installations. 

Q: We’re so excited to feature Be Moved by Art as the winner of our Accessibility Spotlight! The program featured both in-hospital as well as online exhibitions and tours, and included works created by patients and care-givers, new photography, and playful ground-murals.  What was it like working on the program as part of the Ontario Culture Days festival? 

Cj: Culture Days has been like a frame around a process that I didn’t know could exist – the festival celebrated the work that patients were doing by sharing it on a new platform. A wonderful volunteer named Signi Schneider helped organize the program. Together we curated the Walk’n’Roll ART hunt, which brought together works from around the hospital.  We made it digitally-accessible for bed-bound patients, as volunteers were able to show the Bedside Art Tour to patients on iPads. Local Worlds, our photography show, was also digitally accessible to the Saint-Vincent community as well as the general public.

Q: Can you talk about the ways accessibility has been important to this project?

cj: My work engages with the ideas of placemaking and inclusion. This project is totally about access – access to culture, but also physical accessibility, or access to the process of making. Some of the patients at Saint-Vincent are there to learn how to move around society differently. I did some research on various techniques and practices, as people had different capacities to hold on to tools.  

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were points where I was working directly in patients’ rooms, one at a time, in PPE. Other times, we were working digitally, sharing artworks online, so they were accessible to bed-bound patients, as well as people who couldn’t enter the hospital. 

Q: Can you share a moment that has stood out to you from your time working at Saint-Vincent? 

Cj: The patients were really interested in learning techniques. While working on the Atrium ART Bloomz project, there was this one fellow who wanted to make a buttercup. We researched online and looked at real buttercup photos; we were trying to match the materials we had in the studio to what his skills were and what he could make for the center of the buttercup. That was a really incredible moment in terms of integrating the material and digital.

Everybody loved his buttercups so much that one of the other patients asked if he would trade flowers. And he said, ‘nope!’ I ended up teaching others how to make the buttercups – they were like star blooms! 

Q: What kinds of projects are you currently working on? 

Cj: I’ve recently given a digital talk about my work with Bruyère as part of RIA Salons, the new pandemic-child of RIA-Research in Art.  I’ve also been working on a quality of life study with Dr. Wiebe and a researcher from Queen’s University.

It’s really important for me to ensure that the residency is a sustainable project. I’ve been consulting with patients like Molly Knox, who I refer to as my ‘partner in art activism’ at the hospital, about bringing in new artists to explore curatorial collaboration with the Saint-Vincent community.  

In addition to my work with Bruyère, I made 170 masks to give out. I come from a sewing background and was swapping techniques with my sister – you need to stay busy during lockdown!