Art first; fear later.
I’ve been working on a couple of projects that have kept me preoccupied lately:
- I gave a virtual talk along with historian Adriana Davies for Historic Edmonton Week Festival. The topic was how the threatened historic University of Alberta Ring Houses have had a significant connection with both local and international art.
Adriana presented a profile of artist and professor H.G. Glyde and his many accomplishments. Glyde and his family lived in Ring House 4 and his daughter, Helen Collinson, was Curator and Director of the Ring House Gallery and University Collections that were situated in Ring House 1.
I presented a slide show and talk about my local art group Urban Sketchers Edmonton, and our sketches that were inspired by the Ring Houses and other historic buildings, on and off campus, such as the century old horse barn on South Campus.
Our talk can be seen here on the Edmonton & District Historical Society YouTube channel and it will be uploaded onto the Friends of the U of a Ring Houses YouTube channel soon.
2. Along with Shirley Lowe, another former Historian Laureate for Edmonton, I am a participant on episode 7 of the podcast “Searching for Izena”, titled “What If”. The podcast is about Edmonton’s first female alderman, Izena Ross, and the other women who have served on City Council (there have only been 31 from 1921 to present day!). Among other accomplishments of these women, we talk about some of the visionary women on council who helped save our beautiful ravines and river valley from being paved over, and about Helen Paull, the alderman who brought in the 1% art policy. (Note: all councillors originally had the title of “alderman” regardless of gender). Our episode will be available on July 20.
My thoughts about the pandemic fear thing are at the bottom of my post. But first, here are my sketches for June:
The pandemic has changed many things about life including the concept of time. The sketching prompt for this sketch was “outdoor clocks”.
Urban Sketchers Edmonton met up at the Alberta Aviation Museum to sketch the bees and the airplanes. I realised after that my sketch looks a bit like a prison camp for bees but really the fence protects them and they seem very happy. (Hey, apparent “appearance” of a prison, and protection = happiness…hmm. Kinda fits into my theme even though I didn’t plan it that way) I really just wanted the challenge of sketching the chain link fence. Got my challenge!
One of my fears in general, not just during the pandemic, is that my home city and province are losing their identity through the demolition of heritage buildings, both purposeful and by neglect. Our city and province still act like fledglings in many ways and we are constantly reinventing ourselves out of some sense of low self-esteem. We don’t always understand what mature places in the world do: that art, architecture and history are important in place-making and story-telling, in creating identity, a sense of community, civic pride and a vibrant life for all of us who live here and those who visit. Hopefully life is about more than just work and survival.
I wish I could just sketch heritage buildings without having them under threat of demolition. This is one of the two houses in the U of A’s East Campus Village that could disappear soon. It and its neighbouring house were built in 1914 in the Art & Crafts style. Built in the same era as the Ring Houses.
Now, on the pandemic front, which hopefully is winding down if enough people get vaccinated, I have been thinking about how the word “fear” has been misunderstood and much maligned during the pandemic. As with many things, it’s a matter of degree.
The right amount of fear is a very useful thing – it is what has helped the human race to survive since the beginning of time. Rational fear that is. The legitimate fear of the potentially devastating effects of the Covid19 virus is a rational fear, although it has often been labeled as an irrational fear in a way that has encouraged bullying. Popular with some who deny or underestimate the virus (and who therefore don’t believe that masks, vaccines and all the rest of the arsenal are necessary) use rallying cries such as “Fear is the virus!” and call people who are taking precautions “Sheeple” who they claim are irrationally fearful, because well, people are easier targets than a weird, invisible virus. But, really, what’s so bad about sheep? They are pretty darn cute.
However, I think I might be starting to understand where the sceptics are coming from. I don’t agree – but I sort of understand. I think that a large part of it may actually stem from their own unacknowledged fear. Fear of a broken economy, the loss of their jobs, income, houses and the life that they have known for themselves and their families. That is a totally rational and legitimate fear, and I have that fear too. Unfortunately, the way in which that rational fear has played out is through the irrational actions of blaming and harassing regular folk who are just trying to do the right thing for everyone.
The masked and the vaccinated have been working hard to end the pandemic and get the economy and people’s jobs back on track, especially now that we could be so close to the end of the pandemic. Vaccinated and masked people are not closing businesses – they are helping to keep them open. But if there are others who are walking around as human petri dishes, creating and spreading new variants, then that is what can close down businesses, jobs and the economy again.
These are two interesting articles about fear: Why You Aren’t Thinking Clearly: The Brain Science of Fear in Uncertain Times and 8 Ways to Calm Your Survival Brain by American professor and social scientist Hildy Gotlieb. They were written in March 2020 but the basic concepts still apply. And believe me, I have had my brain-freezes and clumsy-brain episodes during the pandemic. I have been fortunate to be able to bring calm back to my mind when I needed it through her and others’ useful advice. We can’t do it alone.
Whether we are thinking about the illness itself, or thinking about the economic reality that so many of us are already facing as the whole world economy grinds to a stop, we do not have predictability to keep our brains calm. We do not have control. We cannot see the path to safety.
Connection requires at least some degree of understanding. When we do not understand the people around us, we tend to other-ize them. “They’re so (fill in the blank – Dumb? Crazy? Messed up?)” is a way of separating ourselves from others. And right now, our brains need us to feel connection, even as we are practicing social distance.
These are all gifts we can give to ourselves and those around us – the gifts of connection, compassion, gratitude, and understanding. These are the gifts our brains need right now. And hopefully those gifts will provide a bit more calm during these deviously uncertain times.
Courage my loves.
Posted by Marlena Wyman