2023 Public Space Fellowship

May 8, 2023

The Bentway is proud to welcome this year’s Public Space Fellows, Celeste Meledath and Ella Hough. Working with The Bentway over five months, the Fellows are exploring the intersection of sustainability and public space design, focusing on how to apply more ecological approaches to The Bentway’s work.

2024 update:
framing the 2023/24 fellowship

There is an urgent need to adopt a broader ecological view of our cities and engage communities in sustainable stewardship of our shared spaces. Expanded ecological worldviews can lead to newfound knowledge of place – an embodied interconnectedness – long understood by indigenous communities who have adapted to changing conditions over thousands of years. Using our public spaces, public art and public programming as a vessel of change, we are able to embed urban resilience into the complex forms and cultures of the city.

The Bentway has demonstrated how experimentation and new hybrid design thinking can transform the experience of overlooked and under-utilized spaces within the fabric of a city. This includes innovative approaches to landscape, wastewater, vegetation, light and air quality, and materiality that constitute a new texture and performance for urban public space.

Over the course of the year, we will expand on this experimentation and evaluate The Bentway’s current operational and design practices as well as our models for commissioning and delivering artwork and programming in the public realm. This evaluation will uncover new ecological approaches and ways of working and lead to new sustainable commitments.

Our 2023 Fellows are engaging directly with, and support The Bentway’s efforts to address the following questions:

  • How can we apply sustainable thinking and practice to our work as a public space organization? What would happen if we modified our approach to design, operation and programming in favour of integration, circularity, and social resiliency?
  • What mechanisms, tools, policy frameworks, and funding models are needed to ensure a renewed commitment to sustainable public art practice?

To mark the beginning of the Fellowship, Celeste and Ella answered a few questions about themselves.

What motivated you to apply for the Public Space Fellowship?

Celeste: I found the Fellowship call when I was looking for opportunities in the sustainability reporting space and was drawn to the city-building element of The Bentway. I recognized the call as an opportunity to learn from urban space practitioners and gain a deeper understanding of carbon footprint considerations at a planning stage.

Additionally, The Bentway, being such a dynamic public space programmer, instantly made me look at climate action from an arts and culture lens, which was very refreshing. As a newcomer with an eye for community-level climate action, I was excited about the idea of exploring the same with an organization that works intimately with the community.   

Ella: This fall I worked with a friend to lead drawing workshops around the city that emphasized creativity as a way of engaging with our surroundings and building community. The Bentway was a huge inspiration to us in our planning. The projects are critical and effective while embracing joy and social imagination. When I learned about the Fellowship position it was a no brainer to apply. Extending this approach to the question of sustainability feels urgent and exciting.  

What interests you most about exploring sustainability and public space?

Celeste: Our shared spaces, with the right design and approach, can create powerful communities, and be the hotspot for innovative experimentation. I want to investigate design changes and ways to harvest clean energy in public spaces to support multi-use. We live in an era where we need to understand our planet better and be aware of the environmental externalities and disproportionate social vulnerabilities arising from modern-day supply chains. Resilient, sustainably powered, and inclusive public spaces have a huge role to play when it comes to imparting knowledge, creating safe spaces in case of emergencies, and empowering communities to lead climate action.

The Bentway brilliantly knits together several neighborhoods and in the past has managed to create dialogue between city builders and communities. It’ll be interesting to know what the residents think about projects such as hosting circular material exchanges, operating free community refrigerators, carpooling set-ups, and creating inter-generational contact, etc.

Ella: In my interview for the Fellowship, I spoke about the public art piece Solitary Gardens by jackie sumell. The project was born from a letter correspondence between the artist and Herman Wallace, a wrongly convicted man who spent forty-one years in solitary confinement in the State of Louisiana. In one letter, sumell asked Herman what his dream house looked like and the first thing he described was the garden. In commemoration of Herman, who died three days after his eventual release in 2013, sumell works with communities to grow gardens designed by prisoners held in solitary confinement across the USA. The gardens only occupy 6’ x 9’ plots—the size of a solitary confinement cell. By doing so, sumell engages communities in rendering visible those who have been made invisible.  

I’m very inspired by this piece. To me, it captures the profound possibilities of public space. As Public Space Fellow, I want to explore how sustainability, too, can be enacted as a public exercise of compassion and resilience.  

What are you excited to learn about the most during this fellowship?

Celeste: I’m thrilled to be a part of the organization’s sustainability journey and to help set up protocols for measuring emissions data. So far, it has been an invigorating time exploring how The Bentway is re-imagining the space under the Gardiner, and I am eager to learn the complex development process of how two-dimensional designs turn into our physical reality. I’m very excited about my independent research which will be based on innovation in the public realm. It is always a delight to discuss project ideas with my co-fellow Ella who, with her background in art history, gives life to my experimental projects by imagining how they would interact with society and create better resolutions for their purpose.

Ella: I’m most excited to learn from my co-fellow, Celeste. She comes from a science background, while my background is in the arts. I love bouncing ideas off her—she always has a unique perspective to lend.

The arts and sciences need to work together to present climate change sciences in a digestible way and to imagine creative solutions to the climate crisis. I’m looking forward to learning how to enact that kind of collaboration during this fellowship. The Bentway in general has very well-rounded staff. I’m excited to learn from all of them!