BOW VALLEY – A pair of exhibits at artsPlace is aiming to get people to think, discuss and educate one another on what consent means to individuals but also the greater community.
The two exhibits by Lesley Russell and Elise Findlay will be on display through the end of May to coincide with Sexual Violence Awareness Month and the Banff YWCA’s Harmony Project’s “Got Consent?” campaign.
The projects are looking to begin what can be difficult conversations and also be used as educational workshops for locals and visitors.
“I think projects and installations like this help have those first conversations that can be hard, but once you do it, it becomes a lot more natural,” Findlay said.
Russell, a Canmore-based artist, titled her exhibit “Consent”. The two-way door can be opened with a mirror on either side aimed to help the viewer to think about ways they view consent.
Russell said her artwork was commissioned by the YWCA after a call to artists to represent consent. She said the goal was to make it as clear as possible and for each person to have control of their own door when discussing and thinking about consent.
“I was hoping that this piece would be a real impetus to bring couples together to really discuss things … For me this is to spark discussion, and really kind of get that topic out into the world.”
She said it can be a travelling piece and the hope is it will go to different venues to raise further awareness on consent and “spark conversations that sometimes can be quite difficult.”
The Banff local Findlay has her “Working Together” exhibit come from members of the community who wrote what consent means to them and place the contributions on garbage as a metaphor.
The piece will also combine with a series of workshops at artsPlace to further engage the community on consent.
“It's all about starting conversations and starting conversations early. I think that, especially with the piece that I have at the Whyte Museum right now, it's a little depressing. It’s showing all the problems but no solutions, whereas I kind of feel like this piece [at artsPlace] is offering more solutions in offering education and it's working with children and youth in a way so hopefully they have a better understanding of what consent means to them that we can improve some of the social issues that we face.”
She said the YWCA approached her knowing she had done similar work, most recently with an exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies titled “Under the Mountain’s Shadow” that will run until June 12.
The exhibit aims to bring awareness to the realities and challenges faced by residents and tourists in resort towns such as in the Bow Valley.
It was created as part of her scholarship work last summer through Alberta University of the Arts, which had her do an informal survey with more than 100 respondents and produce art on consent. The goal was to talk about social issues facing communities in the Bow Valley such as sexualized violence, domestic and intimate partner violence and challenges with mental health and addictions.
“As resort communities, we tend to keep that pristine image and not talk about some of these problems that we face. I wanted to draw attention to it. … The number of comments I got back really showed me these issues strike a chord with our communities.”
Findlay said when she was growing up in Banff it wasn’t as common to speak about the issues of sexual assault, drink spiking and sexual harassment.
“Nobody talked about it, and it's starting to change now, but those issues have always been there,” she said. “I grew up in Banff and I've got a community to support me. I have friends to walk home with at night. I worry a lot for the people who are the first time away from home. They're coming to Banff they think it's just beautiful, idyllic, nothing can go wrong.”
Russell, a long-time Bow Valley resident and artist, said she has seen over the years more progression in discussion on consent.
She praised the YWCA and other groups in the community for focusing on what can be a difficult topic that some may rather sweep under the rug.
“It was pretty brave of them to commission this piece,” she said of the YWCA. “I thought that was a bold move. I didn't expect them to say yes. It’s important to go forward with these conversations.”