Elsy Zavarce, new CIRM member

Published: 5 December 2023

Portait de Christopher TrudeauElsy Zavarce is a doctoral candidate at Concordia University in the Department of Art Education, as well as a visual artist working on the sense of community and the built environment through socially engaged artistic interventions. Her research is supported by SSHRC and the 2022 Elspeth McConnell Fine Arts Internships Award. As a new member of CIRM, we asked her a few questions.


Your research tackles with questions regarding communities, socially engaged art and built environment. How do you articulate all these topics into a research object?

I see Griffintown as a space where I can develop artistic interventions and invite people to think about the past, the present and the future. I invite the community to Griffintown; I invite it to think about the neighborhood and how to construct community itself, through socially engaged artistic interventions. My proposal for my PhD is a total of three interventions: one dealing with institution (which is the Fonderie Darling), one about urban space (Horse Palace), and finally, an open call of ideas, art and design to think about the past, present and future of Griffintown.

Griffintown is an example of the rapid transformation of the city, but it still has the potential to be a space whose history can be saved and where the past, present and the future can be intertwined. It’s a challenge! It's a challenging neighborhood because of the rapid transformation; it lacks all the amenities and community services usually serving neighbourhoods, such as parks and schools. It is disconnected from all the traditions of neighborhoods in Montréal. It’s a challenge and an invitation to rethink development. There are precious historical assets that we can still save. I invite communities to think with me, that has been my idea as a researcher, as an artist, as a cultural mediator.


What lead you to study this?

This question is very personal. I moved to Montreal in 2019 as a forced migrant. I had to leave my country because of the situation there, but I had the opportunity to start again in Montréal. In 2019, I started a PhD in art education. When the pandemic started, I had to change my dissertation topic. In that moment, what I felt was the need of belonging and community and a sense of place. That personal question began to feel like a new dissertation topic.


You are particularly interested by Griffintown. Why Griffintown?

In 2015, my kid started to live here in Griffintown and I really fell in love with the neighborhood, right from the beginning. I fell in love with the layers of history in Griffintown and I saw right away how living in Griffintown was going to be interesting. But I didn't realize how fast the transformation was going to be. Already it was a contested area with an amazing history but also a sense of the future.

Of course, I had some conversations with neighbours who think Griffintown was the last opportunity to do a really nice development, but I never lost hope! I think we can improve what we have, and we have some historical jewels. It’s a new community. It's a challenge to develop a new community in such a fast developing area with many new comers, such as myself.


You have done three interventions. Could you tell me about these interventions?

The first one was at Fonderie Darling, where I proposed a series of photography workshops with the community. We took a walk from the Fonderie Darling to Silo #5 and we discussed history and architecture. And then we did a tour of the Fonderie and its basement. Participants were invited to take pictures and take notes and we had a little conversation around those. We did five different workshops.

The second intervention was during the Spring. We met outside, at the Place publique, a new place in Griffintown, in front of the Fonderie Darling. I invited the community to walk to the Horse Palace. So we mapped the community. The idea was to engage with the sensorial and the historical and to share our perceptions. We did a collective map. It was an interesting way to learn about their perceptions and conversations related to the place. I did three walks. The last one was about the future of Griffintown. The participants began to think about different things, which led to the third intervention.

The third intervention is an open call related to art or design or ideas. I have been doing this all Summer and it’s been an opportunity to meet with friends and community. Each participation is an opportunity to learn a lot about the place, about the way people see the place and also about the future and what we can do to make the quick development of Griffintown more human.


How do you think CIRM will help you in your research?

We share the same interests about Montreal, the neighborhoods, and communities. I think you have a lot of resources. I hope to connect my projects with you and researchers. The multidisciplinary aspect is very important; I love to follow all the threads, I am very curious! Also, I am sure you are going to support and advertise my projects!


In a few words, how would you describe the city of Montreal to a non-Montrealer?

It’s a compact city, where everything is connected, in less than 20 minutes! Also, we can see the historical periods in a very short time. This is amazing! I love that. And I love that there is a bicycle path to all my favorite places. And the mountain is great!

Favorite neighborhood?

3 symbols of Montreal?
Mount Royal, Museum of Fine Arts and Chapel Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours


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