Broken City Labs: Using public art for urban renewal
Can public art projects effectively draw attention to areas of a city that need change? Cyclists from Broken City Labs believe so: they set up these large, brightly-colored letters reading “MAKE THIS BETTER” to call attention to Ontario’s “dead-zone” neighborhood known as “Ripper’s Valley” (as in Jack the Ripper). “There are numerous complications in working publicly, but that is part of what makes it fun,” said Justin Langlois, the group’s Research Director. The group’s website documents the immensity of research that the group puts into selecting a space for a project and building the art — art that they lose control of as soon as it is installed. “As much of what we do is temporarily sited and installed, the complexities in the work come from the time spent researching the place ahead of time and allowing artifacts like photos to guide a viewing and experience of the work after the fact,” Langlois said.
As viewers do not know who precisely is commanding “Make This Better,” the anonymity and temporary nature of the work implies communal responsibility, rather than individual opinion. “We’re hoping that Make This Better will initiate a dialogue about not only the places that we, as a community, could take on together, but about who exactly should make this better — is it the responsibility of the city, the neighborhood, or even just one person?” Langlois asked.
“Make This Better” is part of an ongoing series of installations in needy areas of Windsor. Past work from Broken City Labs included the Fall 2009 screening of the giant word “WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER” on the Chrysler building in Windsor, where the message faced not only the city of Windsor but its neighboring city of Detroit. Broken City Labs has been called “an art therapy collective for a city in need of triage” and has been presenting work in Windsor since 2008.
“We don’t work on behalf of the community, we work as community members,” Langlois stressed – community members who hope their (literally) large-scale work will bring other community members into a larger conversation.