By Jessica Lovell
Over the past couple of weeks, many people have walked right by an unassuming grey box in front of the Old Quebec Street entrance without giving it a second glance. However, hundreds more have stopped to accept its challenge of coming up with ideas for how St. George’s Square could be better.
“What do you suggest?” asks the box, which is outfitted with three slots – one holding pencils, another blank suggestion cards, and the third just an opening for depositing ideas.
“I wanted people to feel that they could use their creativity in the place that they live,” said Jenn E. Norton.
Norton, a multimedia artist, created the box as part of a project called Site Lines. The project was one of two “artistic interventions” sponsored by arts organization Musagetes as a way to bring attention to St. George’s Square.
Today (Oct. 10) is the last day the box will be out in the square, and by then Norton hopes to collect many more suggestions, as outlandish as the imagination allows.
“After, I’ll select six suggestions and make architectural renderings of those suggestions for St. George’s Square,” she explained. “I’m also hoping to make all of the suggestions public on a website.”
The suggestion box is a jumping-off point from which Norton will create digital images that reimagine the square. Those images will go on display on poster boards in the square, so that people can see what they might look like if the ideas became reality.
“I’m really interested in hearing feedback from people that are seeing their ideas presented to them,” Norton said.
So far the suggestions have numbered in the hundreds, she said, although she’s not sure of the exact number.
For practical reasons, Norton places the box in the square every day – after she drops her little one off at daycare – and she picks it up before dark to avoid nighttime vandalism.
The box also stays home if it’s raining.
It might have been easier to set up a website to collect suggestions, but that wouldn’t have been in the spirit of the project for Norton.
“It was really important for me that people were standing in the place that they were making suggestions for,” she said.
She also wanted to ensure that people who didn’t have access to the Internet still had the opportunity to participate. She also wanted people to be able to draw their ideas, so that things like language and literacy weren’t barriers.
There have been many suggestions, and the supply of suggestion cards even ran out one day. Then, Norton found suggestions scribbled on the back of bank slips.
She doesn’t want to reveal too much about the nature of the ideas, because she doesn’t want to influence suggestions that might still be coming in. She says, though they haven’t been exactly what she expected.
“Before I started this process, I was really imagining it would be suggestions for the design of the downtown,” she said.
Suggestions about the types and number of people in the square were among the somewhat unexpected responses she has received.
Besides that, there have been some “really great ideas about making a livable space,” said Norton. These included elements geared toward kids, more greenery and elements that would help people with mobility issues enjoy the square.
“I was happy to see that,” she said.
But she has also noticed significant overlap in the ideas, so her six renderings may include combinations of several suggestions.
“The project is changing because the majority of the suggestions are suggesting something very similar,” she said, adding “it will all become clear on Nov. 1.”
That’s when Norton’s renderings are set to go on display in the downtown.
Norton, who mostly works alone, says she’s looking forward to working with other people’s ideas.
“I think sometimes great ideas come from people outside of a discipline,” she says. “They might come along and do something totally outside of the box.”
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By Jessica Lovell