Visual Art Program
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The Visual Art Program on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project was developed to create memorable, high-quality, works of art consistent with the international importance of the bridge and to celebrate and promote creativity and friendship between Canada and the US.
Multiple artistic features have been incorporated into the project as a result of ongoing community feedback to integrate cultural and historical recognition features where possible.
Inclusion of public art in the project originated from input received during the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study. A commemorative art feature will also be incorporated into the Canadian Port of Entry, along with several local art-related initiatives funded through the Community Benefits Plan.
In addition, visual and aesthetic elements have been incorporated throughout the project. At the US Port of Entry, the concrete cladding exterior on the US POE main building was designed based on the soundwaves of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Public art is an integral part of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project overall aesthetics and is the result of years of public and stakeholder consultation. Multiple art commissions have been identified for inclusion into the project, as a result of the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study. These include:
- an artistic building façade at the Canadian Port of Entry
- a standalone Indigenous art commission
- dramatic and dynamic bridge lighting.
Public consultation has been and will continue to be undertaken on each artistic commission to help inform the artist’s themes and ideas. These events will provide the opportunity for the public to meet the artists and enable feedback on concept development.
Artistic Building Façade
An artistic building façade has been integrated into the exterior of the maintenance building at the Canadian Port of Entry which will provide a welcoming and unique experience for future users of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Unveiled on February 15, 2023, this commission features the work of artist Sara Graham, a Canadian artist from southern Ontario and is currently based in Port Moody, British Columbia.
Titled “On the Other Side of Tomorrow,” the façade is composed of 22 stamped concrete panels, each, approximately 3x7 metres/10x23 feet. The work reflects national and regional Canadian landscapes and was achieved through the incorporation of illustrative mapping techniques and a combination of different optical perspectives. Elements included in the artwork represent suburban areas, industrial zones and farmland, as well as artistic renderings of mountains, treetops, road systems, lighthouses and water.
Indigenous Art Commission
A stand-alone Indigenous art commission will be incorporated into the Canadian Port of Entry as identified in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) Federal Screening Report prepared for the DRIC study.
On June 15, 2023, the Gordie Howe International Bridge project team announced the selection of Michael Belmore, celebrated Anishinaabe artist, as the successful candidate for the Indigenous art commission. Mr. Belmore is based in Newmarket, Ontario and was chosen following an extensive selection process.
Mr. Belmore will create a 2.7-metre/nine-foot free-standing sculpture that recognizes and celebrates the history, traditions and culture of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The centrally located artwork will be visible to travellers as they enter and exit Canada. The concept, still under development will be shared at a later date, with installation anticipated before the end of 2023.
With the bridge project located on traditional lands of the Three Fires Confederacy, consisting of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi nations, Belmore met with representatives from Caldwell First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation to collaborate and ensure the artwork would reflect images symbolic of local Indigenous peoples.
Dramatic bridge lighting will be incorporated into the bridge design as an artistic feature displayed along the skyline at night. This will include a dynamic light program designed in collaboration with an artist. Artist selection for this specific commission is anticipated to occur in 2023.
The land where the Gordie Howe International Bridge project is located holds a rich historical past. For thousands of years, it has served as Anishinaabe Territory for the Three Fires Confederacy, consisting of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi Nations. The Sandwich, Ontario, community in Windsor is also the oldest continuous European settlement area in Ontario, with French settlers arriving in the late 1700s. And to many escaping the US slave trade through the Underground Railroad, Windsor-Detroit was a destination representing hope and freedom for themselves and for their offspring.
To commemorate the area’s role on the Underground Railroad, the project will include artwork in an accessible location at the Canadian Port of Entry to recognize this important part of history. The commission is anticipated to be a free-standing work of art (sculpture) that will symbolize hope and freedom, and act as an expression of Canadian identity and history.
WDBA has worked with local organizations to develop the commission and will continue to offer opportunities to collect feedback from local members of the Black, African and Caribbean diaspora and broader Windsor-Essex community, to share with the artist once identified. A public meeting will be held with the artist once selected.
The final art concept will be unveiled in late 2023. Installation will coincide with the opening of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Artist Selection is Now Underway
The request for qualifications (RFQ) for professional Canadian artists of the Black, African and Caribbean diaspora living and working in Canada has closed. A juried artist selection process will advance in accordance with Canadian Heritage guidelines. Candidates selected to move forward in the process will be contacted.
Artist selection is anticipated to be complete in summer 2023. A mentorship opportunity will also be included for a local youth identifying as a member of the Black, African and Caribbean diaspora from Sandwich/west Windsor to work with the artist.
WDBA appreciates the gracious donation of time and services by Karen Mills, Public Art Management on this commission.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge Community Benefits Plan delivers a series of initiatives based on community feedback that advance economic, social or environmental conditions for the local communities. Through partnerships with area organizations and artists, many of these initiatives have incorporated art-related projects in various media that celebrate the culture and history of immediately adjacent communities on both sides of the border. These include:
Bridge Tower Artwork
In 2020, local artists, from Walpole Island First Nation, Caldwell First Nation and Southwest Detroit created murals on the Canadian and US bridge tower forms that celebrate the culture and diversity of the region. There are four art pieces on the US side and six pieces on the Canadian side of varying sizes. The largest art piece measures 15 metres by 12 metres.
Each image is displayed on panels that are affixed to the tower climbing systems. As the towers extend to their ultimate height, so will the artwork, making them visible from land on both sides of the border and from the Detroit River. The artwork will remain on the climbing systems until bridge tower construction is complete at which point the artwork will be repurposed.
Sandwich Neighbourhood Art Project
Four functional art pieces, including two new picnic tables and two wayfinding signs, were installed in the Sandwich community at Queen’s Dock Park and the Dominion House Tavern garden through Life After Fifty’s West End Art Project in 2020. The project involved local youth and the surrounding community in the development of community art that celebrates the culture and heritage Sandwich/west Windsor.
Fort Street Bridge Project
Visitors to Fort Street Bridge Park in Southwest Detroit can learn more about the area’s history, by interacting with a sculpture that serves as the centerpiece of the park. The sculpture was installed in 2020, in partnership with Friends of the Detroit River, on behalf of the Fort-Rouge Gateway Partnership.
Local Southwest Detroit artists, the Nordin Brothers, designed and fabricated the art piece titled “March On.” The sculpture is made of salvaged metal materials from the former, historic bascule bridge that spanned the river at the park site and has been designed to symbolize the 1932 Hunger March and the restoration of the Rouge River.
Community Organization Investment Funded Art Projects
The Community Organization Investment initiative is a five-year commitment to provide an annual investment allowance to non-profit and charitable organizations located in or serving residents of Sandwich/west Windsor and Delray/Southwest Detroit to support events, programming and infrastructure improvements that benefit these communities. Several art projects have been invested in through this initiative, including:
- Three films created by Essex County Black Historical Research Society titled “Across the River to Freedom: Early Black History in Sandwich, ON“
- Look Again! Outside partnership with Art Windsor-Essex which includes the installation of several life-sized reproductions that are relevant to the history of the Sandwich neighbourhood in the community
- Creative Placemaking in Southwest Detroit programming which includes the installation of new art installations in Southwest Detroit through a partnership with Urban Neighbourhood Initiatives.
Future art initiatives:
Delray Neighbourhood Art Project
The project team will work with local artists/youth to create at least one mural within the Southwest Detroit community through the Southwest Urban Arts Mural Project.
Bike Rack Design Initiatives
The project team will create and run a contest for local artists to design one-of-a- kind, locally inspired bike racks that can be installed at various community locations/trailheads within the trail networks and local communities connecting to the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Activities are anticipated to begin in 2023.
Over several years of community engagement, the Gordie Howe International Bridge project team has heard the importance placed on acknowledging the region’s multi-faceted past and present. As a result of this feedback, Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) has formed a partnership with Art Windsor Essex (AWE) that celebrates significant historical and cultural aspects of the region. As of March 2023, two unique exhibitions have launched through this partnership.
March 24, 2023 – May 2023
Sara Graham: Cut-outs, Offcuts, and Cast-offs
Sara Graham’s exhibition included reproductions of the artistic building façade incorporated into the Canadian Port of Entry titled “On the Other Side of Tomorrow” which was displayed alongside other original artwork. Sara Graham’s work explores ideas and issues of the contemporary city, looking at the connections and disconnections between the built environment and the landscape it occupies. In addition, educational and community-based programming was available to Windsor-Essex schools and special interest groups
August 12, 2021 – January 2022
The Bridge Artists Exhibit
The Bridge Artists exhibition featured a selection of drawings, paintings and textiles from the Anishinaabe artists Teresa Altiman and Daisy White of Walpole Island First Nation and Naomi Peters of Caldwell First Nation who were commissioned to create the art murals displayed on the bridge tower forms at the Canadian project site in 2020. A 20-foot scale model of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project was also incorporated into the exhibit, alongside the artist’s’ work. Educational and community-based programming was provided through workshops and a digital study guide available to Windsor-Essex schools. Over 2000 people attended the exhibit and the digital study guide reached over 196 classrooms or 4,700 students.