Art in Place: Visual Storytelling as a Means of Rebuilding
When a community faces a catastrophe, outsiders tend to focus on the immediate and apparent hardships; the spectacle; the loss of life; the damage; the destruction.
But the community remaining alongside the remnants once the camera crews and reporters have left are the truly noteworthy spectacle.
After all, those who remain after a flood, hurricane, or fire are the ones left behind to rebuild.
And the duty of rebuilding goes far beyond raising homes or buildings up again; it lies primarily in maintaining and restoring the relationships and the community that built them.
May 2016 is all too familiar to many Albertans. It notes the beginning of the Fort McMurray Wildfire; the largest documented fire in Alberta’s history.
Today, with a shrinking population, dwindling federal support, and decreasing demand for fossil fuel products, Fort McMurray is slowly moving away from its historical significance as a pivotal building block of Canada’s economy.
Yet, while the region faces a new and abrupt change, Fort McMurray isn’t a place that existed solely for its resources.
After all, a fire doesn’t stop a forest from growing again. The same could be said for Wood-Buffalo resident and visual artist Slone McGowan.
A former manager of Fort McMurray Pest Control and staff member at the Syncrude Towers, McGowan saw the fire as an opportunity to rebuild his life in a new and improved vision.
Since the fire, McGowan spent his time between his hometown of Wood Buffalo and Toronto, seeking out new opportunities to grow as an artist and business owner.
He currently runs LEEK Productions, a video production company that has seen steady growth since its humble beginnings.
How steady has that growth been? Well, over three years later, and McGowan’s line of work includes working with eccentric personalities like Don Cherry and a Grey Cup commercial for Nissan. He has also documented near 50,000 attendees greeting the New Year in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square.
McGowan’s accomplishments don’t stop there, either.
His curriculum vitae is brimming with passion projects, including work in a wide variety of artistic mediums, ranging from knuckleheaded noise-punk bands to graceful interpretive ballet dancers.
While McGowan’s work is versatile, it can be more aptly described as relentless. Today, McGowan hopes to bring his relentless artistic endeavours back to Wood-Buffalo.
Art in Place is a LEEK Productions project directed by McGowan and co-produced with Diana Moser that documents the artistic life in Fort McMurray and Wood-Buffalo.
The purpose of his work aims to connect residents with the rest of the world by rebuilding the community through the medium of video.
The series is plotted to follow the blueprint of a documentary that will carve the history of the place and the beautiful people who built it permanently into stone.
The concept of Art in Place aims to promote creators as the modern protagonists of the town’s rich history. This is why McGowan believes his dedication through art can help redefine Fort McMurray’s identity, as it finds itself in this new and challenging era.
As a whole, LEEK Productions hopes to bring much more to the Wood-Buffalo and Fort McMurray region than merely visual storytelling. With Art in Place, McGowan hopes to bring his masterful skills in art direction, motion graphic design, commercial and documentary film, and content creation to the table as well.
LEEK Productions spent the last six months bringing Art in Place to life. Production for the series started recently on August 19th.
Through this, LEEK Productions hopes to bring value to the commonly undervalued mediums of arts.
In Wood Buffalo, these experiences and stories can contribute to the resurgence of life in the Northern Albertian town, while raising awareness to the rest of Canada, and hopefully, the world.
By documenting the vibrant arts and culture, food, trade, business, and daily life in Fort McMurray, LEEK Productions aims to reinvigorate the life that the town and its residents still experiences, while providing a platform for everyone who pushes forward each day.
McGowan and LEEK Productions will provide a platform for anyone living in the remote areas to gain exposure, perhaps re-inventing their own vision in the process.
Some of the local artists featured in Art in Place include Glen Miller, Nicole Armstrong, Lydia Van Thiel, Leah Perry, and Alyssa Mackay.
In that, the creative labours can reach a wider audience that will directly benefit them and the community as a whole.
Fort McMurray businesses and professionals can also gain exposure in the city that they helped build, with the overarching goal to restore and reinvigorate what once was.
Over two years since the end of the Fort McMurray fire, Slone McGowan wants to use LEEK Productions to start writing the contemporary chapter of Fort McMurray’s story.
With video’s modern presence as one of the most accessible means of communication, there is no better time than the present for Art in Place—and Fort McMurray— to reach a wider audience.
The first series of videos are created with the endearing support of Janelle Coneybeare, Prince Mensah of KTS Solutions, Paul and Andrea Spring of Phoenix-Heli-Flight Inc, and Councilor Jeff Peddle and wife Maxine Willocks Peddle of JP Consulting.
Additional sponsors include Councilor Mike Allen of Campbell’s Music, Liana Wheeldon of The Arts Council Wood Buffalo, and Keyano College.
You can get in touch with Slone McGowan and LEEK Productions by visiting their website.
Photography by LEEK Productions