“How do you spell whatever?!”
Prior to my interview with the selection panel for the West Richmond Community Center’s Art project five questions were sent to me for reference. They involved my ability to work with a variety of age groups, my process of developing collaborative processes and the challenges and opportunities I see in the proposed space. The questions seemed reasonable to me. They almost felt too easy. I knew I had to find a way to present the panel with "How do you spell whatever?"

This was my response to a youth from the community arts project in Vancouver I was involved in - Norquay Park 2010 Clean Water. When I had asked him what the story was in the tile he had been working on he answered in a single word: “Whatever”... In response to my "How do you spell whatever", he mumbled "Aam,... Double U, eighche, A, ... Whatever." From then on he seemed to be just a bit more engaged and interested. It was a moment that made me realize a point in community engagement: No one is there for you. As a facilitator my responsibility is to be with my audience. And at that exact moment I was totally with him. 

My entry into the City of Richmond’s public art platform started at around that time. Richmond’s public art planner, Eric Fiss, was coordinating a Pecha Kucha event. I had been looking for an opportunity to present the mosaic story and the waiting list for the Vancouver event looked hopelessly long. It still is. The Richmond event was cancelled that year but I stayed in touch with Eric and got onto the artists roster for public community arts. The way community arts projects are handled in Vancouver made me curious to see what things were like in Richmond.

The traffic to Richmond on the evening of my interview had been surprisingly light compared to previous experiences so I have arrived pretty early to City Hall. Eric seemed a bit concerned as if a possible encounter with the artist who was being interviewed before me might not be the best idea. For me it was no big deal. I found a spot to sit and prepare stuff for my turn. When the artist before me came out of the meeting room I handed her my card and introduced myself. I later found out that she, Jeanette Lee, was the one selected for this project.

Engagement in community arts is all about collaboration and the connections we make. When I stepped into the room where the panel had been waiting it was my first time to see them. However, our discussion seemed to pick up as if from some time in the past. The question from Norquay didn’t have to wait for too long to be mentioned. In my Pecha Kucha presentation it comes on the second slide. As I was preparing for the interview I had realized that my way of responding to the reference questions would be through a story. And the Norquay Mosaics story is still fresh as an illustration of my approach to dealing with community, be it kids, adults or seniors.

Community Arts is not about arts. It’s not even about community. It’s about our connections and what we make of them. Then our community is built. Then we make art.

So tell me now, what is your story, and how do you spell whatever?