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War of 1812 memorial artists caught off-guard by change in competition rules

Toronto artist Eldon Garnet stands by a rough model of his proposal for a War of 1812 memorial sculpture in his Toronto studio on March 19, 2013.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Artists who were recently dropped from a competition to create a monument commemorating the War of 1812 say they are surprised that the selection process was changed after they spent months working on their designs and that the government, and not a jury of experts, will choose the ultimate winner.

As part of its year-long observance of the war's bicentenary, the Conservative government decided to commission a statue for Parliament Hill and, on Dec. 14, the National Capital Commission announced that a jury of experts had narrowed the field of 34 submissions down to six.

The commission also said at that time that models created by the six finalists would be exhibited for public input on March 7 in what is known in the art world as a vernissage.

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But, shortly before that viewing was to take place, the event was cancelled by the department of Canadian Heritage without explanation. And, late last week, four of the six artists were told they were out of the running.

Eldon Garnet, a multidisciplinary artist and a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, said he was told during a telephone call with an NCC representative last Friday that his concept would no longer be considered for the monument, which will earn its creator $787,000.

"I was surprised that it was that soon," Mr. Garnet said Tuesday.

Even though the decision to narrow the field to two was made without the promised vernissage, he said his discussion with the NCC led him to believe his work and the that of the other five contenders would be viewed by the public on Wednesday at the NCC offices.

"It would have been interesting to see if my own opinion of my own piece would have been reinforced by the public," said Mr. Garnet, who worked on his submission every day for three months straight.

But he received a subsequent e-mail saying only the designs of the two potential winners would be on display.

The NCC told The Globe and Mail that the artists' concepts had been judged on the basis of 12 criteria, including, among other things, the originality, the feasibility of implementation, the project's budget and its schedule for completion.

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"Following a comprehensive review process by the independent jury of experts, it was determined that only two of the six concepts met the technical, aesthetic and historical criteria required," Charles Cardinal, an NCC spokesman, said in an e-mail. "It would have been disingenuous for the public to provide comments on design concepts that never would have been considered in the final decision."

The artists who were disqualified were not told why their pieces failed to make the cut and Mr. Garnet disagrees that his proposal did not meet the criteria. "I think I met them very forcefully and very aesthetically."

He said he was surprised to learn that the final decision is now in the hands of the government rather than the jury of five experts who had been chosen from across Canada to assess the works. "What does government mean?" Mr. Garnet asked. "Someone above Heritage Canada? Your guess is as good as mine."

Mr. Cardinal would not say whether the government representative who will make the final decision will be at the Wednesday viewing.

Quebec artist David Clendining, another of the four artists who did not make the final cut, said he, too, was surprised that the government, and not the jury, will pick the winner.

"That was a bit of a change in plans," Mr. Clendining said.

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Like Mr. Garnet, he said he is certain that his piece met the established criteria.

"I have been at this for many years and this is not the biggest job that I've done," he said. "So I know how to spend the budget and keep crews working and and keep to schedule. So, as far as all the logistics go, I am sure that everything was in order there."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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