Sowing Soul in the City
Three women are at the forefront of the City of Edmonton’s initiatives to bring art to the public and the public to art
Monday, Sep 07, 2015 06:00 am
Jennie Vegt takes advantage of the light coming into her pyramid studio overlooking council chambers to paint. Vegt is Edmonton’s first Artist-in-Residence for the Office of the City Clerk and part of her job is to reflect on city activities and translate the stories she hears into art. Part of her role is to “give people a different perspective on what goes on in City Hall,” she says. Vegt was selected from about 20 applicants in 2014; her tenure ends in November 2016. Although she usually paints in her studio, Vegt sometimes works in the City Room so she can interact with the public. She also sets up studio visits so Edmontonians can watch her work. “I feel much more connected to my city,” she says. “As both an artist and a citizen I feel I’ve learned a lot and I ponder on politics more than I ever have.”
The City of Edmonton has several programs to make the arts accessible, with a Poet Laureate, Artist-in-Residence for the City Clerk and Writer-in-Residence for the Edmonton Public Library. The artists are all well-known women who use their public roles to serve the community. Across from Vegt and over Churchill Square is Liz Withey’s office, on the second floor of the Stanley Milner Library. “A lot of what I do is reading manuscripts and giving feedback,” Withey says. Edmontonians can send 10 double-spaced pages for her to read and evaluate. "There might be a possibility of shaping the writing so it’s something that stands out and can be published,” she says. A former reporter for the Edmonton Journal, Withey has published in literary journals and writes about the arts. She has also had work rejected, which she says is part of the learning process. The Writer-in-Residence term runs from January to December each year. Withey shows writers the many roads towards publication, from traditional publishing houses to self-publishing. The Milner Library has an express machine writers can use to print their books and give them out to family and friends. She also connects writers to resources and to each other. “I organize programs in different libraries and on different days of the week so that people can meet other authors and pick up writing skills. I also teach at schools and organizations.” Withey spends about half of her time working on her own projects. She’s currently writing a memoir and two children’s books. This year she undertook a project called Rock Around the Frock where she documented a year of wearing the same dress every day. But most of her job involves reading other people’s work. “I love that people come in and I love reading their stories,” she says.
Pierrette Requier, Edmonton’s Poet Laureate, works out of her writing studio above her garage in Ritchie. As Poet Laureate, Requier is our literary ambassador; during her two-year term, which began this July, Requier will create at least three original works each year and encourage other poets. She holds monthly Wind Eye Reading Seminars in her studio. Requier says she first used poetry to manage the intensity of her emotions. “Poetry is large enough and expansive enough to hold it,” she says. Originally from northern Alberta, she spent five intense years cultivating French so she could write and perform in both languages. Her “Les Blues des Oubliées” will premiere at l’Unithéâtre in October. The story for the play comes from her own family’s history migrating to the prairies. An important aspect of Requier’s work is promoting the province’s many languages. Requier encourages her multi-lingual clients to write in each of their languages. “The beauty and value of hearing the sonority of all languages present in Alberta is a way to enrich our cultural life,” she says. Requier’s is also working with Charlotte Cranston, Edmonton’s Youth Poet Laureate, to co-host the launch of the Edmonton Stroll of Poets Society’s Haven Reading Series. They are also attending events together to discover and support various writing groups. She often asks poets and writers to read their work out loud. “This is a very intense paying attention,” she says, that allows her “to hear their music.” Creating space for artists is an important part of these city initiatives that encourage citizens to get involved, so Edmontonians can become part of Vegt’s light, be a medium for stories for Withey, or create space for the soul, with Requier.