Alisdair MacRae

Interview with Alisdair MacRae

Alisdair M

About the artist: Alisdair MacRae

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

I typically work in sculpture and installation. However, I like to involve other media, including audio, video, photography and drawing. I appreciate interactive art work where the viewer activates or becomes involved in its creation.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts? 

I enjoyed art very much in high school, and wanted to become an art teacher during my undergraduate degree. I worked and volunteered in museums and galleries during that time, and have been involved in the arts ever since.

What are some recurring themes in your art practice?

I want viewers to feel that there is no distance between them and the work, that the work is accessible and that there is no distinction between artist and non-artist. I place the importance of the viewer above the art object.

What are your most important influences?

I enjoyed working with Sandra Meigs and Mowry Baden at the University of Victoria. I think they were very grounded and also make work that is accessible. Studying First Nations art has given me an appreciation for saying something of importance with my work, and recognizing the context I’m working within, though I would hesitate to say it influenced my work, as most people think of that in formal, material, or theoretical terms.


What is your experience in art projects engaging social practice?

I have been involved with social practice or socially engaged art projects for the past fifteen years. I have used art projects as a framework for addressing a social issue. For instance, I held raffles to raise money for non-profits. I have also used projects to give people access to the creative process, including workshops for public art components, or collaborations with various groups.

What did you gain from your experience?

I feel that the experience can be extremely humbling, but very worthwhile. Although I might have preconceived ideas about working with a group of people, I typically find that I need to start all over once I meet them. Through that process, the work that gets produced is more direct and honest.

How long have you been active in the Ottawa arts community?

Over eight years.

What interested you about working with AOE Arts Council?

AOE Arts Council is an incredible resource. Art Place is just one example of their many efforts at making art a vital part of society. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this amazing program.

About the project

What made you want to participate in Art Place?

I was struck by the incredible opportunity that Art Place offers to both artists and non-profit organizations. The program also benefits the community of Ottawa in general, providing much needed resources to groups that might not otherwise be considered.

What inspired you to pursue this project with this community?

In the spring of 2015, I submitted a proposal for a future public art project with the City of Ottawa’s cARTe Blanche project. The proposal considered the development of a public art project for those without proper housing and would offer tangible benefits to homeless people based on their direct input. However, given that the project was only meant to present a conceptual project that may only be realized in the future, there was no opportunity to seek input from the homeless community on how homelessness may be addressed. Art Place provided the opportunity for me to work with those living without adequate housing to affect change for themselves based on their own creative ideas.

How would you describe the project you will be working on?

Creative activities will be informed by the ideas brought forth during the first two workshops. Two-dimensional media including drawing, printmaking, painting, mixed media,  and photography will be made available as a means for self-expression and to develop design ideas.

Ultimately, the group will be engaged with the design and development of one or more objects that will serve as resources for the homeless. The range and number of objects produced will depend on the budget and schedule for the project. However, any prototypes will also be documented and considered for publication.

At the start of the project, and even more than halfway through it, I can’t be specific about what the resources will be. That information comes from the participants in the project, and it’s a negotiation process with them. I can say that holiday cards, toques, hoodies and t-shirts have so far been developed while incorporating artwork from the participants. I’m not sure what will happen next.


As an artist, what do you hope to get out of this process?

I hope to make the most of the resources available to the homeless community I am working with, and to develop some projects that they can be proud of.

What do you hope participants will gain from this process?

There is an opportunity for people to creatively express themselves in an open manner, which society tends to regard with respect as art. Offering participants the chance to show their artistic efforts to the public can provide a given community with a greater sense of dignity and humanity. These is also an opportunity for people to develop very practical resources that can improve their respective situations, and for others who might face similar circumstances. I believe both aspects of the project offer the chance for participants to realize their potential in a variety of ways, and show this to a broad audience. Society tends to bestow value and dignity on arts and culture. When art is made by homeless people, perhaps people may look at them with greater respect.

How do you anticipate this work will have an impact on the community?

I anticipate the work will have an impact on the community by providing a model or framework for future projects. Given the transient nature of the community that am working with, participants will invariably move on. However, the organization that serves the homeless community will remain, and it will be able to replicate the project as resources allow. I have already met one person who used to live at the shelter where the project is happening. Since gaining more stability in his life, he now volunteers there with the art workshops, and has taken classes at the Ottawa School of Art. It would be incredible if participants in the project are able to eventually achieve similar goals that they aspire to, but only time will tell.

How will your project give voice or expression to the social issue(s) you will be exploring?

The project will give voice or expression to social issues explored by the workshop participants primarily because they are creating the work. However, if they choose to draw attention to their particular circumstances through the work, then that is certainly another opportunity for expression.

How will you know your project is a success?

I will know the project is a success if members of the group have had a chance to work with media or ideas that appeal to them. For instance, in the first workshop, one of the participants asked for materials to make dream catchers, and another was interested in working with charcoal. So, I will make sure these materials are made available. As mentioned previously, the objects that get created are determined by the participants in the project. I don’t have any preconceived ideas about what people should make, or how they should make them. It’s a constant negotiation process. I would ultimately like to see the resources used to create tangible benefits for the participants. Evaluating the success of those efforts will be determined largely by the group and the host organization. If they are happy, then I will be happy.

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