We built it, and they came!

Last Saturday was the People, Pattern, Place photo shoot in Melville, SK. I’ve been here for all of August preparing for this community photo project.  The night before, I had people cancelling last minute, as well as people signing up last minute on the day of the shoot! So things evened out in the end. I had planned the design for 55 people, but ended up squeezing in 59 to allow everyone a spot. 

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for more on an outdoor photo shoot:

  • no rain
  • warm, but not too hot temperatures
  • minimal mosquitos (they had been TERRIBLE recently!)
  • Enough people showed up
  • I did not fall out of the bucket lift during the shoot. 

I’m especially happy about that last one :-)

Here are some photos of the prep, placement and the final product. There were a lot of jokes and bantering flying around, so I think it’s safe to say that everyone had fun. Special thanks to:

  • The Canada Council for the Arts for their support in developing this project.
  • my family for acting as my assistants! 
  • The Melville Heritage Museum board members for their involvement and use of their lawn. 
  • HaasBro Photography for operating the drone camera.
  • Jake’s Tree Cutting for the use and operation of the bucket truck. 
  • And of course, thanks to all the people who came out to be part of the photo! 

More “People, Pattern, Place” projects are already in the works for next year, so stay tuned! Maybe you can be in the next one…

Updates will be posted on Twitter (@ShelleyMiller) and my Facebook fan page Shelley Miller Studio. 

The Power of Face-to-Face

It's been 2 solid weeks of trying to recruit people for my photo shoot, People, Pattern, Place in Melville, Saskatchewan. It's my home town. I grew up here and half of my family still lives here. I thought it would be easy to get 80 people out for a community art project. But it's been tougher than I thought. It's the end of summer, so a lot of people are away for the weekend. There's the Fall Autumn Classic gold tournament, so half the town will be doing that instead! But little by little, with a lot of help from my family members, we've rounded up enough people for the project. 

it's been a good lesson for me: I've realized that making an event on Facebook isn't nearly  enough to host an event. You have to build it, but if you want them to come, you have to talk to people, face to face. My sister went door-to-door in her neighbourhood telling people about the project and my mom was down at the local Dairy Queen soliciting all her friends to come. This is, after all, a community-collaborative project so getting out into the community has proven to be the best way to get people involved. 

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! Former high school teachers will there, friends from elementary school, old neighbours. Like the quilt pattern the project will form, it will have a lot of threads of my past woven in. 

Residency at Museum

For the month of August I'm the resident artist at a Heritage Museum in my hometown of Melville, Saskatchewan. I'll be chipping away at some fabric compositions as well as planning a community collaborative project. I need about 80 people for the collaborative project. More details on that project to come.  

My studio is in the basement of the Museum, but it's a great space with large bright windows. Here are some of the sights around the museum. 

Melville Heritage Museum

Melville Heritage Museum

My studio

My studio

Different types of barbed wire. Who knew! 

Different types of barbed wire. Who knew! 

Need I say more!

Need I say more!

Perm anyone? 

Perm anyone? 

In case you want to try your hand at some surgery. 

In case you want to try your hand at some surgery. 

Mmmm... Embossed book spines. My favourite. 

Mmmm... Embossed book spines. My favourite. 

Louis Armstrong played in my hometown! Impressive. 

Louis Armstrong played in my hometown! Impressive. 

Twitter Contest Winner!

In honour of the grand opening of the new Glen Site MUHC I decided to run a twitter contest, giving away a print of the artwork design for Structura Habitata, my mural that resides at the entrance of the new Royal Victoria wing. I delivered the print yesterday to the winner: registered nurse, Michel Stachura, who works at the Montreal Children's Hospital. I'm always happy when my artwork has a good home! 

The hand paintings on the wall behind us were done by doctors, nurses and staff at the Children's as they say goodbye to the building they've spent so much time in, and prepare to make a fresh start in the new Children's Hospital at the Glen Site. 

I'll be running more contests in the future, so follow me on twitter (@ShelleyMiller) or on Facebook (Shelley Miller Studio) to get the details. 

Public Art 101: Contingency funds

There’s a lot to cover for how to create your budget for a Public Art project, but this post is specifically for Contingency.

What’s that, you ask? Some call it an emergency fund. Call it want, but it’s basically, money you put aside in your budget to cover those unexpected things that might (and usually do) come up. 10% of your total budget is a good amount to use. Definitely no less than 5%. 

But what unexpected things might come up?  Every project is different, but here are a few common ones that I’ve encountered:

  • For outdoor sculptures, sometimes the site isn’t ready when you are. You do everything right. You stick to your schedule, you make sure your fabricators stick to theirs. And then, when they say, “it’s ready for pickup”, the commissioning body tells you the site isn’t ready. Or maybe you planned for an early spring installation, and it’s a late year for ground thaw, so you have to wait another month. Why does this cost you extra?  Because, now what are you going to do with that sculpture sitting at your fabricators? You may have to pay for storage. For a month, maybe 6 months, maybe a year if an entire building’s construction timeless is behind (which often happens in Quebec). Ask your fabricator this question before you plan your budget. And set some money aside in case this happens. If it’s a long wait and it’s the fault of the commissioning body, maybe (*maybe”) you can get them to cover this. But don’t count on it. 
  • Similar to the last item, if you need to get your work out of an atelier or fabricators, you need to pay for transportation. So if a site isn’t ready on time and you have to store work at another location, you’ll need to pay for an extra move. The larger the work, the more expensive this can be. Very large works need a crane or boom truck. 
  • Substrate issues. I’ll be doing a whole post on this issue… And it’s often as issue. Substrate basically means “what lies below the surface”…. lurking!  The unknown. (ok, I’ll stop it with the melodrama). For wall-based artworks, it refers to the structural support behind the wall you see (behind that Gypsum wall, or concrete wall) and for sculptures it means what is below the ground that could cause you problems (pipes, bedrock). Depending on what the substrate is, effects your cost. You need to ask a lot of questions in the early phases of a project so you know what you’re dealing with. But even if you do, sometimes there are still surprises. For walls, the biggest concern is if the wall can support the weight of your artwork. Sometimes the walls chosen for artwork were not designed for artwork. They are just flimsy aluminum and Gyprock. In that case, you may need to build a structural wall. Contingency can help off-set those surprises. 

Do you have questions about budgeting? Have anything to add? Leave me a comment below or tweet me @ShelleyMiller 

Public Art 101: Where Oh Where to Apply?

    Over the past few weeks I've shared all of my tips and tricks with you, and you should be just about ready to start looking for places to use your newfound skills! At the end I’ll share the link again for the Quebec Percent-for-Art or “politique d’intégration des arts à l’architecture” application guide (annual deadline to apply for the pre-selected roster  was April 15th, but if you missed it you can still start your application for next year) but there are also many other places to submit applications or proposals.

     In other provinces, cities and municipalities the system is usually different and they often just have open calls for specific projects, but you should never be afraid to apply!  Some of the acronyms you’ll see are RFP (Request for Proposal), RFQ (Request for Qualifications) or EOI (Expression of Interest). As a professional artist who has been working in the public domain for the past 15 years, I can tell you that it is extremely gratifying to install your work anywhere where people can see it! My biggest commissions have been in Montreal but I have also completed public art projects in Saskatchewan, Australia and Brazil. 

As always, leave your comments and questions below and I’ll be happy to answer. I hope this list helps you find your own exciting public art opportunity, and who knows, maybe we’ll be on the next short-list together!

Helpful Links for Calls for Entry

Quebec Percent-for-Art

Call for Entries (listings all over the US, and some are open to International)

Artists in Canada

The Art Guide

Akimbo Listings (Toronto and area usually listed here)

The Vancouver Public Art website usually gives good listings

Signing up for newsletters (City of Ottawa, City of Calgary, City of Montreal, etc.)

Public Art 101: Demystifying the Application Process

     The Quebec Percent-for-Art program operates on a short-list system, whereby artists are short-listed from their roster of pre-selected artists. To be in their roster you must submit an application. The annual deadline to submit new applications is coming up next week on April 15. You can also update once a year on October 15. The application can be found here.

     The 3 categories to choose from are: 2D, 2D relief, and 3D. Below, I’ve summarized what can be included in each category.

The 2D category includes photography, painting, works on paper, textiles and glass. Also “new technologies”: video projection or digital work.

The 2D relief category consists of painting, ceramic bas-relief, relief sculpture, glass and métiers d’art (fibre and textiles, paper, mosaic).

The 3D category allows for free-standing sculpture, light installations, textiles, and new technologies.

As you see, some types of work overlap in different categories, so you’ll need to decide which category your artwork best fits. You can also apply for more than one category, but you have to submit a totally different portfolio of work for each. I’m currently registered in both 2D relief and 3D since I work in different mediums.

What happens if you’re shortlisted?

If you’re shortlisted from the pre-selected roster you get paid a fee (for most percent for art programs in Canada) to do a maquette presentation.

The fee (typically between $1000-$5000) depends on the total budget. You are generally expected to provide an artwork design, concept, budget, fabrication sample and a 3D physical maquette showing your artwork in context. I've included images below of 2 maquettes I made for winning presentations. One is for my mural at the McGill University Health Centre and another for artwork in École Katimavik-Hébert, both in Montreal. For the MUHC, the colourful windows was an important component to include in my maquette. For the school, the second-floor location of the proposed artwork and tree in the back of the school were included since they were important to the concept of my artwork.   

Who is the selection committee?

Generally it’s made up of 7-9 people:

- One or two people from the percent-for-art program

- The architect or rep from the architecture firm

- One or two artist representatives

- The building owner (propriétaire)

- One or two “users of the space”: people who work in the space

- Sometimes there is an “observer”, who is supposed to have “neutral” interests.

    In my next Public Art 101 in two weeks from now, I’ll share a list of my favourite places outside of Quebec to look for Public Art opportunities. I’m happy to answer your comments and questions below and if you’re interested in process shots and being regularly updated on what I’m working on, check out my Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest accounts.

Things to Get Excited About

Hi All!

I want to keep you updated on things that are going on in Montreal while I’m away enjoying the sunshine.

Firstly, and very exciting, some of my work is featured in the newly published Unexpected Art by Chronicle Books:

They chose to include Stained, a sugar mural that I completed in Victoria BC in 2011.

My work is published in good company, along with the likes of fellow Montreal artist, Michel de Broin, whose work I admire very much.

Here’s an image of Black Whole Conference, to give you an idea of his work:

2006. 74 chairs, fixation system. 440 x 440 x 440 cm. Collection du Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne.

2006. 74 chairs, fixation system. 440 x 440 x 440 cm. Collection du Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne.

Also of interest to me is the work of Swoon, an interdisciplinary activist artist from Brooklyn who often focuses on graffiti made using a carved stamping technique.

And it’s likely that you’ve seen this before because his work went viral on the web a year or two ago but the work of Berndnaut Smilde is so magical that it deserves another mention:

Nimbus Thor, 2014.

Nimbus Thor, 2014.

Talk about ephemeral art!

Overall it’s a high quality, gorgeously printed book and would make a lovely gift for any art lover.

In other news, I donated one of my pieces to be auctioned off at a fundraiser called Parle-Moi d’Amour here in Montreal, which is being held to support Les Impatients and the Wellington Centre (Douglas Mental Health University Institute).  The funds raised will be used to assist in the continuation of creative workshops and interaction with the community through art for people living with mental health problems.

You can check out their Facebook Event page here.

Also in the works for this spring is a fundraiser auction event at the MUHC (McGill University Health Centre). Original artworks by each of the 11 artists (myself included) who were awarded artwork commissions through the percent-for-art program at the new Glen site will be available for purchase. I’ll let you in on the details a little later ;)

That's all for now, Montrealers- hang on a little longer, the warm weather will reach you sooner than later!

Public Art 101: Tips, Tricks and Busting Myths

     Hi Everyone, today I'm going to share some of my best tips related to public art. These things will be sure to embolden you and give you a leg up on the competition.

Look for Smaller budgets:  These can be great places to get your foot in the door. Sometimes, the more experienced artists don’t want to bother with the smaller budgets.

Apply as a team: Often they ask for “artist or artist-led team”. This can include architects, landscape architects, other artists, fabricators, etc. With combined experience, your application can be stronger.

MYTH: I can only apply to do public art commissions if I already do work that looks like public artwork.  

FALSE: you only need to show potential to do that kind of work.

TIP: show a translation of one of your previous works in a permanent material, if you don't already work in permanent materials. This can be just a small detail section to save on costs..


Above is an image of one of my ephemeral murals made from sugar tiles (left image) recreated onto ceramic tile.

(For the record, I’ve never done a permanent ceramic mural that looks like my sugar murals, nor do I ever want to. But by showing the selection committee the translation possibilities for materials, it opened up their vision of what I could do.)

MYTH: A jury won’t consider my work because it’s too political (or controversial…)

FALSE: Public art is not a one-size fits all industry. There are many different types of locations with needs for different kinds of art. Plus, your past and current work doesn’t [or shouldn’t, in my opinion] dictate what you do in the future. Committees often choose artists because they like their “approach”. Every committee is different.

As a personal anecdote, I used images of “The Wealth of Some, and Ruin of Others” (seen below) in my original application for the Quebec percent-for-art roster. This ephemeral installation addresses themes about sugar’s historical links to colonization and slavery. While this subject may not be suitable for the majority of percent-for-art programs, my application was still accepted into the roster using these images.


MYTH: If I’m anglophone, or present in English, I’ll never get picked for a project in Quebec.

FALSE: I’m living proof that this isn’t true. However, for any submission or presentation, it’s crucial that you be understood. This applies for any language differences. If a committee speaks a different language than the one you’re fluent in (whether it be french, english, german or swahili), invest in hiring a professional translator. Have your documents translated and consider doing a powerpoint presentation with translation on the screen. Being able to effectively communicate your ideas is key.

MYTH: I’ll never win if I’m competing against really experienced, or senior artists.

FALSE: I always say, the person who wins the commission isn’t the one who’s the “best” artist, so to speak, or the most experienced. Rather it’s the one who proposes the artwork best suited to that location, to that committee, on that day.

    I hope all of this is enough to convince you that the process of applying for public art commissions is more accessible than you may have thought, and that you’re looking forward to the next Public Art 101 where I’ll show you how to apply and give you some details about what happens when you’re shortlisted. If you like my posts and want to see more, come follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I’m happy to answer all of your comments and questions below!