Cities for People

SenseLabs participants convene on a red cloth in the parking lot of a downtown mall (Lethbridge).

Cities for People is a broad national movement that aims to make our cities more resilient, livable, and inclusive. It was launched in early 2014 by a consortium of organizations from philanthropy, the arts, environmental activism, citizen engagement, and alternative economies. Four themes emerged, each one led by an organization that is curating a set of relationships, demonstration projects, and learning opportunities.

Musagetes is the curator for the Art and Society theme, along with co-curators Ryan Doherty (Director/Curator, Southern Alberta Art Gallery), Todd Lester (artist and analyst, World Policy Institute), and cheyanne turions (independent curator and writer). The other themes include:

Cities for People understands each city to be a unique ecosystem, and like any ecosystem, a city’s strength and resilience depends on its ability to nurture the full diversity of its inhabitants and give them what they need not just to survive, but thrive. Cities for People sees every city as an invitation: an invitation for interaction, innovation, change, inclusion, learning, love and growth; to come up with new ways to make the cities we live in support how we would like to live.

Follow the Cities for People blog for weekly contributions by dozens of writers from many fields.

Follow Cities for People on Facebook and Twitter.

Listen to a discussion about Cities for People on The Secret Ingredient (CFRU 93.3FM), October 15, 2014:

To anchor the work of Cities for People in city-based experiments, the Art and Society co-creative team has initiated or is supporting a collection of projects in Guelph, Ontario and Lethbridge, Alberta.

People of Good Will

Postcommodity, Musagetes, and the Guelph Black Heritage Society are developing People of Good Will, a program of artistic activities at Heritage Hall that focuses on bringing together audiences that are underserved by Guelph’s current arts offerings. The program is co-developed by a diverse team who are connected to First Nations, immigrant, and impoverished communities. The program launched with a ‘feast’ in late September. The experiment focuses on methods of co-creation among and between diverse, under-represented communities.

Dong-Won Kim, Improviser-in-Residence

The Improviser-in-Residence, a partnership with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation: Dong-Won Kim, Korean percussionist is residing in Guelph from mid-August to mid-December. He is leading dozens of workshops with community groups (everybody from seniors’ homes and KidsAbility to professional musicians at the U of G). Through these workshops, he will accumulate a large team of people who will present a major public improvised music performance on November 29. This experiment looks at cocreation in a different way from the Postcommodity project in that it uses music as a form of communication; over the past few years we have seen improvisation as a central way by which communities come together. Silence, a musician-initiated space in Guelph, is a further component of this. Adding a new dimension to the residency program this year, we are partnering with the Laurier Centre for Music in the Community at Wilfrid Laurier University to have a portion of the residency take place there. Past improvisers-in-residence have worked with KidsAbility, Give Yourself Credit High School, Homewood Mental Hospital, and numerous others.


Silence, a community hub for adventurous music

In early 2013, musician Ben Grossman used his own resources to open Silence, Guelph’s portal for adventurous new sound events: experimental, improvised, noise, ambient, installations, sound art, outside electronica, found objects, computer music, handmade music, post rock, psych, and freak music. Silence has a monthly concert series, Monday-morning improvisation sessions, and handmade music nights and workshops. It is an open room of about 670 square feet located in downtown residential neighbourhood. Silence has become a critical hub for community engagement and collective creation. It is a model for cultural spaces that connect diverse communities and bridge cultures. With Cities for People, Silence is a demonstration project, studying the role it plays in the neighbourhood, its capacity to cultivate new audiences for co-creating improvised music, and for engaging people in the wondrous act of making sound and music.


The SenseLabs, inspired by our work in Sudbury and implemented for the first time in Lethbridge, are designed as an experiment to better understand how people make sense of their encounters with art and their participation in artistic creativity. The SenseLabs, with eight participants selected from diverse backgrounds, are designed as a series of four labs to be completed successively over variable periods of time, like Russian nesting dolls. The labs sequentially progress from individual exercises to collective projects; from observation to analysis and representation; from walking and talking as forms of inquiry to writing, drawing, and performing as forms of articulation; and from private perception to public action. The SenseLabs gradually intensify with collective map-making and publishing projects, using collaboration as a way to build a community of engagement that makes concerns public. They culminate with a performative work that brings their critical inquiry into public consciousness, releasing the transformative potential of heightened individual and collective perception. In Lethbridge, the participants are working with Jean-François Prost, a Montreal-based artist, to explore unused sites and spaces of conflict in the city. As a pedagogical project we are now developing new SenseLabs for other contexts, including an art & ecology-focused SenseLab for the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge.

The Resilient City Project

The Resilient City Project in Lethbridge is a series of walks in and around the city that focus on specific components of urban resilience. The walks are led by artists and scientists. Each walk has been documented in a 5-minute video which will be available in November 2014. So far, five walks have been held:

  • Hester Jiskoot, a geologist at the University of Lethbridge, led a walk through the city, highlighting the geological formation of the city from early glaciations to contemporary interventions (oil drilling, coulee erosion, etc.).
  • Annie Martins, an artist at the University of Lethbridge, led a listening walk through the Hardieville neighbourhood in north Lethbridge.
  • Lorne Fitch, a biologist and founder of Cows and Fish, led an all-day of the devastated headwaters of the Old Man Watershed, Lethbridge’s water source.
  • About 30 artists and scientists convened at Regent Restaurant—a Chinese restaurant that hosted dinners for artists for decades—on its final evening before closing for retirement.
  • Allan Townsend, an urban geographer and resilience scientist, led a tour of the Lethbridge Agricultural Research Station and its much-beloved, century-old Fairfield Gardens which is maintained by volunteer scientists.

Into the Streets

The Southern Alberta Art Gallery began the Into the Streets program a few years ago when the gallery closed for two seasons while they undertook a major renovation. They brought art out into public space, engaging new publics that are otherwise very hard to reach. With Cities for People, SAAG curated a new version of Into the Streets for 2014. Jenna Swift, a community facilitator, is animating each of the projects by engaging new audiences in conversation and in projects.

  • Theo Sims, CarPark (opened June 27, 2014) — Multi-disciplinary artist Theo Sims has garnered a reputation for an art practice that sites sculptural projects in social contexts often outside of the gallery.  Wielding a sharp sense of humor, his objects include a working simulation of an Irish pub – The Candahar – which almost effortlessly prompted occasions for debate and dialogue.  For Into the Streets: Avenues for Art, Sims looks beyond the gallery to the park surrounding it, installing a solitary asphalt parking stall (complete with a ticket booth and wooden barricade) upon the grassy lawns of Lethbridge’s Galt Gardens.  The startling displacement of such common urban vernacular, the parking stall, asks us to reconsider our relationship to natural lands versus manufactured landscapes, disrupts our expectations of public art, and serves as a literal platform for planned and spontaneous events and interventions.
  • Matthew Walker, Device for the Emancipation of the Landscape (July 14 to 26) — Walker transforms the aural landscapes of urban and industrial sites by reintroducing an organic soundscape. Delivered from the mouth of an enormous cannon, and focused with the use of parabolic reflectors, this reintroduction of dislocated, natural sounds provokes an opportunity to reflect on both the human impact on the landscape and the layered history of that particular site.
  • Strange Relations (July 18 at 7 PM) — TRUCK & SAAG presented Big Blocks of Ice & Why Bees Are Nice, with Hester Jiskoot (geologist) and Amber Yano (beekeeper, naturalist and artist). Strange Relations is an innovative program featuring a series of bilateral lectures on unrelated topics. Part intellectual battle royale and part anti-symposium, Strange Relations invites experts from different fields to speak about what they know best.  Following the lectures, a participatory discussion will take place where audience members are tasked with finding connections between the two subjects through the questions they ask.
  • Megan Morman, Punctuation Marks (opens October 17, 2014) — Laser-cut, stainless steel punctuation marks from commas to asterisks will be installed into the walls of significant buildings in Lethbridge’s downtown core. In the same way a sentence uses punctuation to aid reading and interpretation, this project will use familiar typographic symbols to make a building’s history and style legible in a playful way.
  • Justin Langois, 10 Things You Will Always Need to Know About This City (opens October 17, 2014) — 10 Things invites members of the community to contribute to a series of time capsules that will be embedded throughout the City of Lethbridge for periods of time ranging from next year to 1000 years from now.  The project will create an opportunity to consider time through the lenses of legacy and burden as practices of everyday life, forms of resistance, and forward-looking records for the city of Lethbridge.
  • ONE NIGHT STAND, curated by Collin Zipp (October 17 at 8 PM) — On display for one night only, the exhibition, entitled No Vacancy, will showcase six Canadian artists each offering an interpretation on the theme of a domestic environment.  The artists include Kristina Banera (Winnipeg), Irene Bindi and Aston Coles (Winnipeg), Kelly Mark (Toronto), Greg Moody (Lethbridge), and Lisa Stinner (Winnipeg) and will feature a range of media.
  • Project for the Reimagination of 3rd Ave. and 6th St., a collaboration with the students of the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, Urban Planner Ross Kilgour, and SAAG (December 1 to 31, 2014) — With the intent to embed art, creativity, livability and social responsibility within public space, this project brings together the fertile minds of local students with urban planning professionals to re-envision one of Lethbridge’s main thoroughfares.  Students will work to generate an architectural model of 3rd Ave. and 6th St. replete with innovative green spaces, public forums, environmental initiatives and sites for artistic endeavours.

In addition to the artistic program, Musagetes is also convening different groups to talk about the transformative value of the arts and the ways that the arts make our cities more livable, inclusive, and resilient.

  • We are convening a cross-Canada discussion on urban resilience via a multi-city road trip in April 2015. Ten artists and the Cities for People interns will travel from city to city, visiting artist-run centres and Aboriginal organizations in each place. More about this soon!
  • We’re collaborating with One Earth on Disruptive Imaginings which has seeded a few interesting possibilities for a new intentional approach to the art/futures/sustainability nexus. We’re convening a larger group in Vancouver in Spring 2015.
  • Musagetes has partnered with Walrus magazine to present Walrus Talks: Resilience on October 8 at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
  • Musagetes partners with the Eramosa Institute to present the Guelph Lecture. The next lecture, January 9, 2015, will take the theme of urban resilience and the future of cities with a conversation between Janice Gross Stein and Brigitte Shim.
  • We are piloting a series of Artist Roundtables (Guelph, September 11; Toronto with MaRS  and Vancouver in the Spring) that situate the artist at the centre of thematic discussions related to urban resilience. The first one, featuring an artist, a scientist, an historian, and a museum director, will take Climate Change as its theme.
  • The National Forum of Cities for People will take place in Toronto on November 12-14, 2014.