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WI(L)DER COLLABORATIONS : reflections on community engaged arts practices

©Beth Carruthers 2005

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In western Canada, where support is more difficult to obtain, projects usually rely on the commitment of initiators and participants to keep going.

Based out of Vancouver and the Squamish traditional lands, Uts’am/Witness is an excellent example of a Canadian community engaged project. Co-founded in 1998 by visual artist Nancy Bleck and mountaineer John Clarke, Uts’am/Witness is a long-term collaboration with the Squamish Nation. The project brings the Squamish and settler communities of Vancouver together, while working to save watersheds in traditional Squamish territory. The work continues through the commitment and support of the Squamish Nation and dozens of volunteers.

The SongBird project was co-founded in 1998 by visual artist Beth Carruthers and writer/director Nelson Gray. SongBird was internationally recognized for linking nature and culture, the arts and sciences and focusing on the distinctive habitats of local communities. Aware of the legacy of confrontational “eco-battles“ in coastal BC, SongBird focused on the celebratory as a starting point for action and community engagement. The collaboration produced a number of events and initiatives in Vancouver and Victoria before wrapping up in the fall of 2002. The project is archived at:

Artists and the arts are needed to be pragmatic, prescriptive, critical, political, vital and alive, as well as creative, whimsical and joyful. We are needed to “foreground” the backgrounded relationships, values and concerns of a world in crisis. Active engagement with the breadth and complexity of community is a sure way of doing this. Support for this work is critical.

Breaking down the solitude and competition of fragmented specializations can be difficult. Within our institutions, we feel we must capture and define the hard boundaries of a practice; and yet at the same time we must somehow allow the mutable, the reflexive, the adaptive strategies that art and artists embody while working and collaborating with the real and constantly surprising world of community and difference.