Plaid Friday mixing art, music, shopping

Art is at the heart of downtown revitalization.

Much of the new vitality being felt from the city's business core is radiating from arts-based locations. In addition to the public-sector institutions like Two Rivers Gallery and Prince George Public Library, there is also The Black Donkey Cafe, Dreamland School of the Arts, Long & McQuade Music Store, Groop Gallery, the Wood Innovation & Design Centre, Books & Company, Twisted Cork, Nancy O's, Royal Canadian Legion, The Hubspace, and many more locations currently home to regular special events that leverage the arts.

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Now there is another and it is dedicated to linking the arts to downtown development. The Neighbourhood Time Exchange is a program hosted by an Emily Carr University department called Living Labs working in partnership with Downtown Prince George.

Today's Plaid Friday event is an example of the business boost coming from this conjunction.

The Neighbourhood Time Exchange (NTE) works on a schedule of creation and advocacy. A professional artist is given a month to be Emily Carr University's artist-in-residence, stationed in an open workspace at the corner of Third Avenue and George Street, sandwiched between the Black Donkey and Groop Gallery. But they aren't tasked with just working on their own new art.

"There are nine artists scheduled between September and April, so we are nearing the midway point of the project," said Living Labs project coordinator Laura Kozak.

"The premise of the project is, artists come for one month and split their time - half devoted to making their art and half devoted to volunteering for a not-for-profit community partner, working towards a shared goal."

The partnerships came from an open call for expressions of interest that happened prior to the NTE's launch. This month, the artist is renowned Calgary/Windsor artist Alana Bartol and the community cause is Love Downtown PG, the shop local program championed by Downtown Prince George.

Some of the obvious signs of this partnership is today's Plaid Friday event whereby downtown businesses are open later than usual for concentrated shopping and other interactive experiences in the city core. One such thing is the invitation to come enjoy free live music and original art on display at the NTE studio from 6 to 9 p.m.

Another element is the Bartol exhibition that will be unveiled on Tuesday from 5:30-9 p.m. that shines light on her month spent in this rare position of gathering information and impressions, processing them through her trained artist's mind, and expressing them through the communication sciences embodied by art. The artist's chief talent is making statements that are larger and more meaningful than the sum of its parts.

Kate Armstrong, one of the Emily Carr University staff involved with running the NTE, said "a lot of times, the thinking goes to a default impression that an artist makes a piece of art, it is a static thing, you can touch it or watch it, but what's going on in this space is an expansion of that thinking. It's to show how art is a more open possibility and more about the process than an end product. Art can be alive."

"A lot of my art doesn't look like art," said Bartol. "It might look like people meeting around a table, it might look like me walking around downtown, it might look like conversations happening to discuss downtown Prince George. Art is a lot of things, and it is not always about a physical thing."

The NTE's assistant curator Caitlin Chaisson discussed Bartol's communication campaign called Let's Talk About Love In Downtown Prince George. It involves a slough of cards being distributed around the downtown where marginalized residents might see them and fill out comments. These will be collected for the purpose of amplifying a voice not usually heard in conversation about the fortunes of P.G.'s downtown.

"Her artistic process involves responding to place, which is ultimately a highly social and dialogical undertaking," said Chaisson.

"Since arriving in Prince George, Bartol has taken part in conversations with Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School, The Fire Pit, met with local historians, spoke with local women at UNBC's Inspiring Women Among Us panel, and has developed relationships with many other individuals committed to telling their own stories of Prince George."

The ultimate curator of the NTE is Emily Carr University professor Justin Langlois who said "Alana is a very significant Canadian artist who works in this realm of social development artistry. She really is one of the few working on this expansion of what art is in the eyes of the public, and putting form to what modern art really means in conjunction with the literal and tangible forms we are already familiar with. An artist can orchestrate a moment for the sake of that moment, and few other professions can do that. It really is about the science of communication."

Bartol said the key to this is staying true to the flow of information. She had pre-arrival ideas in mind for what she should do as the NTE artist-in-residence, but she changed her mind when she began to meet the community here.

"I was so intrigued by this city that it changed all my project goals," Bartol said.

She has been busy with several aspects of her work. Much research was done, many photos taken, many cards prepared and some displays created in downtown windows.

"I have been taking a series of night photos of buildings in downtown Prince George," she said, as one example.

"It was inspired by the photographs of Bob Grier. The act of taking the photographs at night aims to breakdown negative perceptions of the downtown being dangerous."

To join the conversation, the NTE invites everyone to visit their location (1119 Third Avenue) for any of these public events.

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