By Rosa Saba
On the second floor of Kanata’s Beaverbrook Library hangs a chandelier-like formation of more than 150 Mylar triangles, dangling in the natural light from a nearby window. The triangles that make up the Wisdom of Trees installation feature drawings by Kanata North community members, many of them from well-known local tech companies including Ericsson, You.i TV, ThinkWrap and Martello.
The project was a joint effort by the AOE Arts Council and the Kanata North Business Association as part of a series of neighbourhood arts projects meant to contribute to last year’s Canada 150 celebrations. The installation was first unveiled in June 2017.
Artist Margit Hideg led hour-long workshops, helping participants get used to exercising the more artistic side of their brains. Hideg, who is no stranger to the high-tech world thanks to her work in graphic design and her husband’s engineering background, says her approach was to give the busy employees of Kanata North tech companies a feeling for what it means to “get disconnected” – even if just for an hour.
“Each company had a different way of approaching this subject,” Hideg says. “They really enjoyed working with their hands and having a totally different mindset.”
Hideg helped the participants explore the theme of “how their roots influence their choices in life,” finishing the project off with a series of video interviews. Exploring trees as a representation of the community highlighted the importance of creative collaboration and of community, even in a high-tech world, she explains.
“The miracle for me with this project is that it grows organically,” she says. “Once we are creative, we can connect with each other, because that’s the nature of creativity.”
For Deborah Naczynski and her team at You.i TV, a video platform development company, the chance to participate in the project was a departure from their day-to-day work.
However, her team wasn’t shy about jumping right into the opportunity. Techies might not be always known for their artsy inclinations, but Naczynski says her team is used to integrating a creative mindset into the work they do at You.i TV.
“I knew they would jump all over it,” Naczynski says. “The engineers are highly creative … it comes through in a different way.”
Naczynski, an outreach specialist at You.i TV, says she considers the firm “an art and science company,” and that the importance of creativity to innovation is often overlooked in the tech world.
“To have that influence is so incredibly important,” she says.
Pavel Latif, a technical project manager at Ericsson, says that exploring his own connection to Kanata during the workshop helped remind him of why he has grown to love the tech community.
“When I first moved here, I was very skeptical. I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Latif says. “But now after living here for four years, when I go to Toronto, I miss Ottawa.”
Though visual art isn’t something he does often or comfortably, Latif says the workshop was a breath of fresh air, as well as a chance to see another side of the people he works with every day.
“You could see that people were having fun together and trying to create something together. I think that was the essence,” he says. Latif’s triangle featured a tree positioned like a “watchful eye” over his community, representing how he has come to feel about his new home in Kanata North. “I feel safe within this community, within this city.”
Latif says he noticed that at work, he felt more comfortable around his colleagues after having seen their creative sides.
“People are more relaxed and informal,” he says, adding that projects like this are a good way to make friends, not just within the company, but within the Kanata North tech community.
Jenna Sudds, the former executive director of the Kanata North Business Association, says the intent of the project was exactly that – to bring community members together in ways beyond their day-to-day work.
“This is a technology community, and we were asking them to get out of their comfort zone a little bit,” she says. “It was really fun to witness just how creative these folks are.”
Naczynski says she thinks the inclusion of more arts projects can only benefit the business community, which she calls “overwhelmingly technological.”
“If you don’t try to introduce the artistic community in with what you’re doing every day … you just miss out on some really, really important skills,” she says. “It’s definitely a conversation that should be had.”