CBC Windsor

Windsor Votes: Liveable Art

Karen Brady, CBC News

Broken City Lab We're in this together.jpg

As Justin Langlois and I wander over to the empty lot next to the Art Gallery of Windsor, I ask him the most obvious question I can think of given the name of his art group - Broken City Lab: "Is Windsor broken?"

The short answer he offers up is "yes". But Langlois says, "the idea of broken allows for that room to think about how you can fix this place. How you can do it at a scale that makes sense for your neighbourhood, or the whole city if you want to take it on."

"We like to think of art practice as thinking through doing."

Langlois wants "to discover what it means to live in a place like Windsor." He hopes Broken City Lab projects will not only inspire and engage the community... but also provide creative solutions to Windsor's problems.

Justin Langlois is the Executive Director of the Windsor Arts Council, and teaches Communications at the University of Windsor. He's also a working artist.

Broken City Lab started out as a student project. Now that he's graduated, the Lab has taken on a life of its own. The projects are two parts art, one part activism, with a dash of optimism thrown in.

Langlois says, "Windsor kinda just needs some boosterism, right? We need to start changing the conversation that we're having about this place."

Over the summer, Langlois partnered with the city to provide free space to artists. They came to live on Pelissier Street with the goal of seeing how they could interact with the community to make better use of the space... perhaps create something interesting, something more 'liveable'.

Justin Langlois next to the Art Gallery of Windsor.jpg

For instance, one artist made floral planters and put them in the vacant lot east of the art gallery where they still bloom... a small improvement to the otherwise uninspiring piece of prime downtown real estate that sits empty.

Another project involved projecting slogans on the Canderel building that could be seen from Detroit - slogans like "We're in this together." They also mapped out vacant buildings downtown and came up with creative uses for them.

Langlois suggests, "The best way to move forward in working towards a liveable city is to think about how you can impact the place around you."

Eddie Francis's platform includes giving away downtown retail space to artists, so Langlois is hopeful his group is having a small impact on how politicians think about the arts.

An empty lot west of the Art Gallery of Windsor.jpg

As we stand on an empty lot next to the Art Gallery, where many municipal candidates are calling for a new residential village to bring life to the core, Langlois comes up with several more ideas for the space.

"I'm thinking wow, this would make a great soccer field for a downtown business lunchtime soccer league. Or it would be great to have movie screenings on the side of the Art Gallery of Windsor, or it would be great to have this wall covered in positive slogans."

Langlois wants to make sure that talented U of W grads have a reason to stay in Windsor. He also wants to see city council take meaningful steps to engage the arts community to implement the Cultural Master Plan, and bring the University downtown.

"That's the only way you're going to revive the downtown."

Speaking of city hall he says, "We just need to figure out ways to work together more... and figure out how we can make this place sustainable for the arts."

But Langlois is not waiting around for the politicians.

"It's not a one way street. We need to come up with real ways that we can find that common ground and ways that make sense for the economy, and for the community, and for culture."

Styrofoam planters in a row next to art gallery.jpg

Langlois comments to me that he's amazed that the five floral planters are still lined up in a neat row on the vacant property, and still growing.

"They're even cutting the grass around them, like they're supposed to be here."

Real living art. Perhaps the 'seeds' of change are starting to grow some roots.

For more, check out www.brokencitylab.org.