National Poetry Month – Poet Laureate Challenge!

To celebrate National Poetry Month and UNESCO World Poetry Day, each year municipalities across Canada are challenged to bring poetry into politics. One mayor leads this annual challenge by inviting a poet to read at a council meeting in March or April, and challenges mayors and councils across the nation to follow suit and join the celebration. Initiated by Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco in 2012, the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge celebrates poetry, writing, small presses and the contribution of poets and all writers to the rich cultural life in our country. Last year the torch was passed from Regina to Calgary, and Mayor Nenshi’s first challenge was a huge success. With over seventy participants, the 2015 challenge was our largest yet—but we hope for even more in 2016!

Calgary’s Poet Laureate derek beaulieu—in partnership with Barrie, Ontario’s Poet Laureate damian lopes have a friendly challenge to Poets Laureate across Canada!

We challenge Canada’s Poets Laureate—the celebrated poets across the nation—to reach out to each other and publish, in a small press edition, a poem by one another that can be distributed in your city’s council chambers.

Lopes and beaulieu challenge Canada’s Poets Laureate to request a poem from one of their fellow Poetry Challenge poets, design and publish a small edition and then graciously distribute that edition to members of their city council during National Poetry month and the Mayor’s Poetry Challenge.

With over 40 years of small press publishing combined, beaulieu and lopes believe that small press publishing is an easy and fun way of distributing poetry—anyone can do it! Any printed and folded page can enclose a poem in a thoughtful, simple means of slowing down the reader with a poetic moment.

These small editions will distribute the nation’s poems to city councilors and put poetry in people’s hands – weaving together the nation’s Poets Laureate into a tapestry of voices celebrated in city chambers across Canada!

Poet Laureate, City of Barrie

To mark my presentation to Barrie City Council as the city’s second Poet Laureate, and to mark the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I produced 100 numbered and signed copies printed on mylar. A few copies are still available upon request.the cycle of charlie

Spirit Catcher Sold for Scrap Metal

Now if that headline were true, a very small minority in Barrie would approve or not care, but the overwhelming majority of Barrie residents would be alarmed and speak out in protest.

The Spirit Catcher by Ron Baird has graced our shoreline since 1987, and it is the quintessential icon of our city. Most of our residents never knew Barrie without it.

Weighing twenty tonnes and standing 25 meters tall, Barrie residents identify with, and are identified by, this dynamic and kinetic sculpture. Then valued at $230 000, it was gifted to the Barrie Gallery Project, placing our city squarely on the cultural map. Ultimately, it lead to our leading and renowned cultural institution, the MacLaren Art Centre.

Today, the City of Barrie routinely declines donations of artwork because our city has no strategy for selecting and maintaining these works. Without a concrete plan and stable funding, our city has been right to reject these investments.

And Canadian art is a sound investment, with a rate of return from 18-39% in recent years, according to the Globe and Mail (

Public art isn’t going “to dip into Barrie’s public purse.” Rather, we are investing in improved quality of life, making it easier to attract healthcare and other professionals, and business investment.  When the spirit is catching, we all benefit.

More than a financial investment, local art in public spaces is an investment in our community. Public art beautifies our city, and makes it unique. Local art tells our stories. Our Spirit Catcher is synonymous with our city, and is probably the most enduring image visitors take away.

Public art is our brand.

The Public Art Policy before City Council has been carefully crafted by our community, for our community. It puts forward a framework for acquiring art for our public spaces, and provides a sound financial model to ensure ongoing maintenance and preservation. Like in so many other cities across the country using this well-tested model, it will be self-sustaining.

Barrie has made great strides forward in supporting local arts and culture, but we still lag behind the national average for a city of our size and regional importance.

This Public Art Policy is an essential piece missing from our economic development plan. This Policy is overdue, and deserves the support of every resident who appreciates our Spirit Catcher.

After all, art inspires: it catches all our spirits and soars us to new heights.

damian lopes
Barrie Arts & Culture Council