Celestial events marked the beginning and the ending of the meeting, like auguries from a Celtic past.
A sundog, that torn fragment of a rainbow, dug its technicolor blade into the earth on a 45 degree angle to the setting sun. A rare winter phenomenon never witnessed by me before.
It was March of this year and we were on our way to hear Pier Giorgio Di Cicco's talk on Creative Communities. I had worked hard to host this event here in the West Hill section of Toronto. Invitations had been sent to every school, church, political and community organization in the area. But we were fighting the walking wounded staggering home weary from a days work and a long commute back home to the suburbs. And, of course, girls night on American Idol. Given such adversaries, would anyone come?
Millie, at Sister's Restaurant, had donated her party room for the evening. The proviso was that we would have to set up the chairs ourselves. So we arrived early to our task, only to find the room already set up with only a few minor changes needed.
People trickled in and time raced toward the 7 pm start of the meeting. Had the sundog been an augury of success or failure, or just some random meteorological event? In the end, 25 people turned out in a room set for over 60. No teachers and only one church sent two people. A disappointment.
Pier Giorgio arrived, tired emotionally and physically from officiating at the burial of a friend. Although the Poet Laureate of Toronto, Giorgio was once a Brother in the Order of St. Augustine and is now a Roman Catholic Priest. The City Planner of Toronto had died suddenly and Giorgio had been asked to preside over his funeral. He had come to our meeting directly from that, dressed in his black suit and roman collar, the normal flamboyant clothing of the poet laid aside for his somber duties.
He went from table to table, engaging each individual in conversation. Who are you, why are you here (when so many others stayed in the comfort of their home), what do you want for your community?
He went to the lectern and waited patiently for my introduction. And then he began to speak. Hesitantly at first, struggling to find his way into his message. But then finding the heart of what he wanted to say, his voice gained strength, lifting the audience out of the drabness of suburban life into the promise of a vital community, where people spoke to each other, where artists found each other and contributed to the public space, where political will encouraged innovation and risk over safety, where messiness was tolerated and fears laid aside.
Here is the essence of his message: "Let's say an artist creates a piece of public sculpture, a red boot. You will find there are two reaction to this red boot--"Oh look, someone created a red boot and set it here on the sidewalk. Why would they do that? What a fun thing for someone to do!--or "Look at that stupid red boot, someone's going to stub their toe on that. We better get in touch with our City Councilor and have that removed."
You can have vitality or safety, human interaction or safety, growth or safety, a healthy community or safety. But you can't have both. Creativity is a messy and risky human endeavor but joyful and hopeful for all of that.
The meeting went on for two hours, with Giorgio having another two hour drive back to his home north of the City.
As we left the meeting, a lunar eclipse was nearing the 3/4 mark. We stood in the cold winter night, warmed by the meeting and the vibrant exchange of ideas that followed and watched the moon turn red. Like the statue of an old boot sitting on a sidewalk, just waiting for someone to stub their toe.
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