Guest Post by Roberta Grosland, Head of Collections, Woodstock Art Gallery*
Our new neighbours, at what was then Woodstock Hydro, reached out to us to help them organize a logo design contest to promote their solar energy program.
We were the ideal partners, we not only knew a great deal about art, we also had the best view in the City of Hydro’s new solar panels.
The kids that entered the contest were so enthusiastic about the project and passionate about the environment, it inspired the Gallery’s Head of Education, Stephanie Porter, and me to begin to plan a permanent collection exhibition and school program that would examine some of the issues facing the environment.
Over the next few years, the Gallery continued to partner with Woodstock Hydro. Together, Oxford County and Woodstock Hydro had set a 100% renewable energy target of 2050. To reach that goal, Oxford County and Woodstock Hydro needed both a space and a way of actively engaging the public and that is where again, the Woodstock Art Gallery could help.
Through the summer of 2015, photographs by students from the Environmental Visual Communication Program at Fleming College, under the direction of Neil Ever Osborne, were displayed in our Community Gallery. Jay Heman and his team from Woodstock Hydro, could often be found in the gallery sharing information about local sources of renewable energy. And, even when they were not there, information panels and audio visual displays encouraged our visitors to learn more about this exciting goal.
By 2015, the Gallery had undergone renovations and for the first time we had exhibition areas dedicated to permanent collection exhibitions. Finally, in January 2016, Observations in the Glass House, the exhibit that Stephanie and I had been planning for 5 years opened. The exhibit was generously sponsored by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada. It was a good fit as it reflected Toyota’s commitment to the environment. The permanent collection works that made up Observations from the Glass House spanned half a century, eight artists and a variety of media. Some pieces celebrated the beauty of nature, other mourned the toll humans inflict on both the environment and other species that share our world.
Stephanie was heavily involved in the planning and choice of works as it was important that the exhibit not only work as an art exhibit but that it functioned as a jumping off point for, The Art of Sustainable Energy, a school program for grade 5 and 6 students sponsored by Oxford County. The students who participated in the program examined the art in the exhibit and discussed the environmental issue the artists raised. They then played games that encouraged them to think about how they could make a difference; for example, through re-cycling. Jay Heman, now director of strategic initiatives for Oxford County, gave each of the classes a PowerPoint presentation about renewable energy and then allowed the students to conduct a hands-on exploration of a working solar panel.
We still have the best view in the City of what are now Hydro One’s solar panels. All the visiting students got to see those solar panels along with Jay’s strategically parked, electric car!
Oxford County not only loaned us Jay for each of the programs but also underwrote the transportation costs for the classes to visit the Gallery.
Student participants learned more about sustainable energy and Oxford County’s renewable energy target. But, perhaps just as importantly,
students discovered that art can not only challenge us to question what we see around us but can also challenge us to make a difference in our communities and in our world.
*Roberta Grosland is the Head of Collections at the Woodstock Art Gallery in Ontario, Canada. Her interest in art and art galleries started when her mother snuck her in to The Guggenheim Museum at age 4. She went on to obtain a BA and a MA in Fine Art History from the University of Toronto. After moving to Kitchener, Ontario her career path swerved into the world of museums and living history. She was a costumed historical interpreter first at Doon Heritage Crossroads and then at the Joseph Schneider Haus Museum where she went on to hold a variety of positions. Since 2008, Roberta has worked at the Woodstock Art Gallery managing the Gallery’s permanent collection and curating permanent collection exhibitions.