After years of discussion a group of anti-poverty activists, many impoverished, labor people and other citizens made the decision to erect a monument to honor the anti-poverty work of Dorothy O’Connell. The artist was selected on the basis of her approach to collaborating with non-arts groups and the committee’s desire for her new work to acquire similar public recognition as a previous piece in Minto Park: the “Women’s Monument Against Violence”. Over the years, that monument had become a well-known Ottawa site for public and private rituals and as a rallying point for activist events (Dec 6th, Canada’s “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women”, annual “Take Back the Night” marches and earlier events against poverty and violence).
The artist and monument group worked together to find the right location and to navigate through Ottawa City Council for permission to create a piece that would publicly acknowledge the fight against poverty in Ottawa (Canada’s capital city), Ontario and beyond.
Dorothy O’Connell and all the members of the group supported the “bread with missing house” concept, as it brought basic issues like food and shelter to the foreground and expressed a constant struggle that poor people face – “feed the kids or pay the rent”. Anti-Poverty activism, an intimidating issue, was made approachable through this portrayal and gave dignity to the impoverished; they have stated their great pride in the monument and feel a sense of ownership and visibility.
The somewhat humorous forms invite viewers into close proximity to discover and contemplate the monument’s deeper meaning at their own pace. Having initially envisioned a simple “speaker’s podium”, the monument group fund-raised to bring the larger monument to life, after starting to work with the artist. The final concept yielded both: the empty “house-shape” of the large bread became the speaker’s podium and the podium doubled as a bench for staying a bit, within the monument’s circular plaza.
The interior walls of this hollow house bear the words often stated by Ms O’Connell:
POVERTY STOPS EQUALITY
EQUALITY STOPS POVERTY
Dorothy O’Connell is a widely respected, anti-poverty activist and playwright in Ottawa, often referred to as a poet laureate of the poor.
The monument was unveiled Oct. 17, 2004 on the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.