On Aug. 13, Arts on the Ave (AOTA) lit up the community with a new public artwork designed to spark conversations and engage people. The 30-foot-wide neon sign reads “let’s heal the divide,” and was created by Toni Latour, a Vancouver-based artist.
The unveiling event featured community members and partners with AOTA, including MLA Janis Irwin, Barrie Mowatt (founder and president of Vancouver Biennale), members of the Edmonton Police Service, representatives from Engineering Connects from the University of Alberta, Indigenous chef Rich Francis, and more.
The event was an opportunity for community members to share what the art meant to them and start conversations. “We need to have conversations, sometimes difficult conversations… to be able to start opening up what is hurting, and what needs to be healed, and how we can do that together,” says Christy Morin, executive director of AOTA.
Latour said in an interview with AOTA that let’s heal the divide was inspired by an Idle No More protest she attended and created in consultation with community members. “This piece is really calling on… people, communities, governments, [and] systems to change because we won’t have true healing until we have justice.” That includes economic, environmental, and racial justice. “We each have that responsibility toward that justice and toward that collective healing.”
Vancouver Biennale is loaning art, including let’s heal the divide and the Jellybeans to AOTA. He says, “Our focus, our endgame on all these projects is creating community engagement and social dialogue where you live, where you work, where you play.”
Randall Fraser, the president of AOTA, says, “[This] art is demanding that we engage with each other… We have made phenomenal change, but it’s still just the tip of the iceberg. So, I’m thrilled by this opportunity to keep engaging and to keep re-engaging, to listen closer, to care more, and to dream bigger and better.”
“This is a really powerful piece of public art that compels us in our community to ask questions about how we can come together and how we can address some of the challenges that we face,” says Irwin. “But truly, I mean we are an incredible community with so much to offer.”
“Public art is so powerful,” Irwin continues, “and this is just another example of how public art spurs conversations and really builds a sense of community.”
A police officer, William Briggs says, “There is a divide in the area, and it’s nice to kind of bridge those gaps finally.” He adds that due to the revitalization that has taken place, he and his colleagues spend their days off in the area. “The Ave has changed so much for the better. It’s about time this happened, and we need a little more of it.”
The inclusivity of the artwork encourages community members and people passing through the Ave to ask themselves which divide they feel compelled to heal. Stop by the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts (118 Ave and 92 St.) to see the artwork.