Is Guelph’s Begging Bear getting the boot?
It has been dressed as Santa, clad nose-to-toes in tin foil, and has sported T-shirts supporting any number of causes, but this summer might mark the first time Guelph’s Begging Bear has been threatened with eviction from the park it calls home.
The iconic sculpture, located in front of the Art Gallery of Guelph (AGG) in the gallery’s sculpture park, has been all but invisible for several weeks this summer, hidden inside a wooden crate stencilled in yellow with the words, “DO NOT FEED BEAR.”
“Have you seen the latest Begging Bear intervention?” asks a July 27 post on the gallery’s Facebook page.
The post features pictures of the wooden crate with the bronze bear’s outstretched paw poking out — an “intervention” that was still in place as of Aug. 23, almost a month later.
“Drawing people in as they pass by with its humour, a closer look reveals a poignant message that invites us all to consider the ongoing displacement of those who are homeless as well as the recent encampment evictions in Toronto and those closer to home, like the removal of Guelph’s tent city dating back to 2018,” the Facebook post continues.
The installation appears to be a social commentary on how those experiencing homelessness are treated.
Stapled to the crate are what appear to be tickets for “solicitation in aggressive manner” under the Safe Streets Act.
Affixed with screws to one side of the crate is a laminated orange “EVICTION NOTICE,” stating that it is “prohibited for anyone to occupy private property without the express permission of the owner or lease holder of the property.” The notice gives a deadline to vacate of Dec. 21, 2021.
A similar yellow “NOTICE TO VACATE,” stapled to another side of the crate, references an “unlawful encampment” at 358 Gordon St.
Another paper stapled to the crate advises that “the time has come to remove your tents, structures, equipment, and personal belongings from the park.”
It goes on to say, “the government can no longer permit the appropriation of Donald Forster Sculpture Park by a relatively small group of people to the exclusion of all others wishing to use the park and to the detriment of those in the vicinity of the park. In addition, the current use of the park by a homeless bear and others occupying Donald Forster Sculpture Park is causing damage to the park and interfering with necessary maintenance of the park.”
On the back of the crate is a dictionary definition of the word, “homeless,” underneath which are the words, “NOT A CRIME.”
It’s not clear who is responsible for placing the crate around the bear, but the name, Lionel, appears on the fake tickets and notices.)
An update to the gallery’s Facebook post suggests checking out @lionel.was.here on Instagram for clues. (Note: The new Instagram account is @lionel.streetart.)
History of the Carl Skelton sculpture
The Carl Skelton sculpture, dated 1995-1999, is a beloved fixture in the sculpture park.
So-called “interventions,” where people dress up the bear, are a regular occurrence and are seemingly welcomed by the gallery.
“We are as keen as you are to see how the community interacts with this artwork,” says the Facebook post.
This latest intervention seems to have lasted longer than most, and it’s not clear whether it will be removed or when.
“In general, AGG is not responsible for adding or removing community interventions unless they are deteriorating, as these are initiatives led by the public and transitions tend to take place organically,” gallery community engagement co-ordinator Nicole Neufeld said in an email to the Guelph Mercury Tribune.
“Ultimately, the Art Gallery of Guelph has a legal responsibility as the caretaker of the collection to ensure the integrity and safety of each artwork, as well as the public who interact with them,” she said.
It appears the public is continuing to interact with the installation, as the words “SHIP TO MADAGASCAR” were recently painted on the crate.