P.E.I. artists share advice for Art in the Open

The coming of summer means one thing to many Island artists: preparing submissions for Art in the Open.

Successful past acts give advice on getting their work featured at Art in the Open

Art in the Open Charlottetown will take place Aug. 25 from 4 p.m. to midnight. (Art in the Open PEI/Facebook)

The coming of summer means one thing to many Island artists: preparing submissions for Art in the Open.

The event is a unique mix of art exhibitions and installations that adorn several outdoor spaces throughout Charlottetown allowing for audiences to see a range of styles on display.

Victoria Park, the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Victoria Row, Rochford Square and Connaught Square are all points of focus in the one day free event.

Some artists from past festivals reflect on their experiences and give some advice to prospective participants.

First time's a charm

April White was accepted into last year's festival for the first time with her installation It's okay to be tired, which featured a tent filled with couches and comfortable furniture.

April White's installation in 2017, called It's okay to be tired, focused on the 'communal exhaustion' people often feel in society. (Submitted by April White)

"It examines the sort of communal feeling of exhaustion that many people feel in this kind of capitalist society surrounded by invasive screens and devices," she said, describing the motivation behind the piece.

White had placed pillows on the couches so once people were inside sitting down you might put your head on a pillow, and a recorded speech would play from within.

"You could basically just lay down and have a good excuse to just keep your head down on a pillow and listen to the voice."

She also created an animation, using dozens of watercolour paintings, called Yawn.

This watercolour is frame 40 of a series that was turned into an animation called 'Yawn' by April White. (April White)

White submitted to Art in the Open along with a festival in St. John's and said the experience at the Charlottetown event was great.

"It was a whirlwind.... It's just huge, and it brings so many people together from the community," she said.

"Just the audience, I couldn't get over how many people took part in that festival. There were points where there were massive lineups to get into my tent ... I was amazed."

White, who is based in Newfoundland, had some simple advice for those thinking of applying for this year's event.

"Just follow through, just do it. Don't be afraid of rejection," she said. "And run your proposal by some people before you submit it."

Expanding possibilities

Millefiore Clarkes, a filmmaker, has been involved in three festivals since its inception in 2011.

All of her entries were collaborations with her father, a composer, where she has used his musical works and created a visual accompaniment for them.

Millefiore Clarkes has been a part of three Art in the Open festivals. (Submitted by Millefiore Clarkes)

"Two of them were outdoors in the woods in Victoria Park, which was amazing," she said. "Such a magical thing to have, you know, projections outside in the night in the summer." 

Clarkes said entering into Art in the Open challenged her to think outside the box. "It definitely stretched my understanding and sort of consideration of film and video," she said.

"Creating something for a live performance is totally different … it's definitely made me … reimagine you know what video can do in a real space where audience members are coming and going."

Millefiore Clarkes' film Soft Snow was performed at Art in the Open 2017. Pictured above are the performers rehearsing at the Beaconsfield Carriage house. (Submitted by Millefiore Clarkes)

Clarkes said for applicants it's important to try and convey what they see in their art to the jury that will decide whether or not to accept them.

"Give them as much visual aide as possible, make your words visual but also example photos or sounds or whatever it is so you can help the jury sort of imagine what you're imagining," she said.

She also said taking the location into account is important, as meshing the piece with its environment brings the exhibit to a higher level.​

Share ideas

Donnalee Downe, an interdisciplinary artist who lives in Charlottetown, has participated in five Art in the Open festivals. Two of them were apprenticeships, one installation/performance and the most recent two were performances.

She says her experience with the event is "fabulous" and while it's a lot of work to put in for a one-day event, it's worth it for your practice and building your resume.

In 2014, she entered her own proposal titled, Burning Words, a large installation with a burning fire and performative elements.

"People recorded their feelings or things they wanted to get rid of ... they put them in baskets and then I burned the baskets every half hour for the duration," she said.

Donnalee Downe's 2014 submission, called Burning Words, gave the audience the chance to record their thoughts or feelings and put them into a bucket. The contents of the buckets were burned every half-hour in a bonfire. (Submitted by Donnalee Downe)

In 2015, she made sandwiches for all the artists and delivered them on bicycle. And last year, she performed Public Work where she dug holes and filled them in.

Her own experience was greatly helped by mentorship opportunities offered through the festival, including two with artists off-Island.

"These are people on the Island we never would have the opportunity to interact with or get feedback on our own work or ask questions or see how they do that," she said. "If you looked at how many people did a residency then went on to have successful applications, my feeling is that my practice as a whole benefited, but it also puts you in a good position to know how to frame your proposal so that you are successful."

Donnalee Downe's 2017 Art in the Open entry called Public Work. (Submitted by Donnalee Downe)

For first-time applicants, she recommends sharing your ideas widely, such as using a Google Doc, asking artists for past successful applications and going to any workshops that are offered.

"Writing about your work takes a lot longer than you think it's going to take," she said. "Use language that is clear, write so that the committee can see what it will look like and why it matters ... and ask for lots of help because with an idea like that it can feel really clear in your head, but you need someone to look at it with fresh eyes."

Art in the Open takes place this year on Aug. 25 from 4 p.m. to midnight. The submission deadline is March 31.