In 1793, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe named London Ontario and the Thames River as a possible site for the capital of Upper Canada because of its defensible location against the American Army. Years earlier, French and English fishermen settled in Fogo Island because of the abundant coastal resources it provided for the colonies.
Both places are steeped in colonial history; a colonial history of economic growth and power. Fast forward to present day and the roots have grown deep. In many places the roots have grown deep enough to displace pre-existing knowledge and culture. Fast forward to present day and you see increased consumerism, a depletion in natural resources, the collapse of a fishing industry, and the truncation of colonial settlements. With the eyes of a capital investor you witness the evolution of place from important to irrelevant.
Because of changing environments, money might never come as easily as it did before for people in places like Fogo and London. Many places that were once cornerstones in a colonial market economy have now experienced a history of struggles with diversification, urbanisation, and population flux.
How do you respond to issues of place and time? For Zita Cobb, the first answer is immediacy – your actions in the moment when you feel called to care for what matters.
That call came to Ms. Cobb in the form of a letter from a town councillor proclaiming the Cobb’s family home as a rundown eyesore that needed to be either fixed up or torn down.
It was 1992, some years after many families had already left the island, when Canadian Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, John Crosbie, declared a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery. The declaration left about 30,000 people without work and ended an economic practice that had shaped thousands of lives in every community along the Eastern Canadian Coast.
The Cobb family home was abandoned, the gate hammered shut with a large nail, because there were no more fish. The home was deemed an eyesore, lined up for demolition, because of a failed economy. But Ms. Cobb returned home in 2002, leaving behind her position as top executive at the major fibre-optics technology company JDS Uniphase.
The second answer is art – a way of knowing, belonging, questioning, and innovating. Zita Cobb did not simply return home. Through investment, connection and hard work she revived life in the Fogo community. She founded Shorefast; a non-profit organisation built on the principles of care for the environment, protection of cultural capital and the investment in artistic expression. Part of Shorefast, Fogo Island Arts facilitates artistic practice by hosting local and global artists that engage in conversations to make sense of the world through creative expression. Artists hold residency on the island at one of the handful of beautiful artists studios that dot the landscape.
The capstone project part of Ms. Cobb’s revival of Fogo is the Fogo Island Inn, A luxury hotel designed (along with the artist studios) by architect Todd Saunders.
At 7PM on March 2nd, 2017 at Museum London, Zita Cobb delivers a public lecture entitled “Belonging to the World: Place-Centric Economics”. The lecture is presented by The School for Advanced Studies in the Arts & Humanities in collaboration with Public Humanities at Western and Museum London.
The spirit that was first captured by the National Film Board (NFB) Challenge for Change project documenting Fogo Island resident’s desires to remain on the island, was picked up later by artist Pam Hall in her astounding Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge, and is now carried forward through Zita Cobb’s return to Fogo and dedication to the culture and economics of a place; a place on a small island, an important place in a big world – wherever your place might be.
If you go:
Thursday 7 PM until 9 PM
Museum London 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario N6A 5H4
Admission is free with registration: http://owl.li/mDI3308J08N
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