Zoom in on an Ephemeral Place: The Flotilla Neighborhood, Charlottetown

By Elise Anne LaPlante
March 10, 2019

Photo: LP Chiasson.

Photo: LP Chiasson.

Photo: LP Chiasson.

Photo: LP Chiasson.

East of Ontario and Quebec are a few provinces which keep a low profile in the eyes of a vast country but which, when you make the drive to visit them, prove to be very lively, artistically enthusiastic, and animated places. Here, in the heart of the smallest of the four Atlantic provinces, there took shape a gathering of cultural workers and artists from across the country; here Flotilla was born. Much more than a conference—beyond the limits of what is called professionalism—Flotilla was a happening with encounters and sparks in abundance.


Flottille, nom féminin. Ensemble de petits navires naviguant ensemble.

Flotilla: noun. A small fleet of ships sailing together.

Rocked by waves, the Atlantic provinces function in an organically fluid manner. Their borders, physical but also cultural, are quite often fluid rather than solid and terrestrial, at least with respect to the visual arts. The greatest gulf may be between its linguistic communities, but even there our communities are networked.

These networks had to be brought into play to carry out this – let us be clear – major event. Colleagues who more often gathered around their webcams more often than a table clearly showed that they could create a place in the small but buzzing city of Charlottetown. A place, precisely, and not simply a gathering spaces. The city’s downtown, was transformed and taken over by hundreds of cultural workers, most of them recognizable by their Flotilla tote bags, and it became a place where “everyone knew one another.” It was impossible to walk down the street without saying hello every few minutes. That’s our reality here out east, and we wanted to share it and let everyone experience it.


Lieu, nom masculin. Endroit, localité, etc., considérés du point de vue de leur affectation ou de ce qui s’y passe.

Place : noun. Place, locality, etc., seen from the point of view of its use or what occurs takes place there.

This place made people’s experience of the conference unique. On the one hand the organizers wished to deconstruct the conference’s rigidity and promote informal exchanges, seen as being as productive as a traditional format, and on the other hand they wished to see the event take shape organically with flexibility and ease. From inside, one could sense a transformation of urban space, where the arts truly materialized not only through the presence of the delegates, but also by occupying spaces in the form of pop-ups—such as a bar, a bookstore and exhibition spaces. The fresh Maritime landscape and the light breeze breathed through each of our movements around the city, and certainly brought something to the discussions.  

The energy of the local artistic community may also have coloured the experience. For us, East coast workers in the arts, collaboration is at the heart of our projects and activities. When it comes down to it, of course, collaboration may be a survival mechanism. Informality and especially friendliness are also omnipresent in our interactions and our working methods. This fluidity, as much spatial as it is behavioural, was the starting point when Flotilla was planning how to welcome participants.


Fluidité, nom féminin. Caractère de ce qui est mobile, difficile à saisir, à fixer.

Fluidity: noun. The nature of something that is shifting, and difficult to seize hold of, or pin down.

This friendly style of gathering naturally also exists elsewhere in the country, and several participants were able to reproduce their own version of it on-site in Charlottetown for the conference. One such group was Verticale artist-run centre from Laval, Quebec, with one of its ongoing projects: a reading group. One of the only representatives of Quebec present, Verticale is a centre which already carries out off-site activities, and its event was in a sense an extension of its regular programming—a discussion moment in the form of a seminar, but in a much more relaxed and warm fashion, without obligations.

In addition, a group discussion around the connections between urban life, the role of artists, and the ecology of space was launched by the performance group Journée sans culture. This discussion and this intervention took place against the backdrop of a work by Alexis Bulman and Norma Jean MacLean (Tarp It, Run a Cord) which addresses the same topic of artists occupying space. The event thus got people thinking in a place which echoed the issues being discussed.

Another recurring element of the conference was the relational effect of food. Several gathering situations developed around a meal or some manner type of tasting menu, encouraging people to bond in a relaxed environment.


Repas, nom masculin. Ensemble de plats servis selon les usages à telle heure ou pour une circonstance particulière.

Meal: noun. A number of dishes served at a particular time or for a special occasion.

In this spirit, Galerie Sans Nom, an artist-run centre from Moncton, New Brunswick, presented a project in collaboration with artist Mathieu Léger. As part of this activity, Léger’s work, consisting of silver platters with humorous and at the same time dissenting inscriptions, was a springboard for conversations around Acadian identity. The conversations unfolded over a meal in which the food itself was an integral part of the event and the discussions. The meal was made up of reinterpreted traditional Acadian dishes, surprising both those familiar with Acadian cuisine and those who were new to it.

To get the conversations started, participants had to consume the food served on the artwork-platters and then as a group interpret the inscription thus revealed. A kitchen party ensued, with delegates discussing Acadian identity in response to the platters’ ironic remarks. Thus the expression “Français neutre” (French neutral), a reference to the history of Acadia, was served with croquettes de fricot (Acadian chicken stew croquettes); “je suis un frais administratif" (I’m an administrative cost), an allusion to the struggle for bilingualism, was served with râpure aux coques (shellfish rappie pie); and “best assimilage [sic] ever,” giving rise to a discussion about the Acadian dialect known as chiac, was served with an apple ploye (pancake). 

Flotilla took place outside conventional conference spaces, and became a welcoming, stimulating and refreshing site. It was a gathering where communities from across Canada found themselves thrown together for a time, in a place where human and artistic exchanges sailed fluidly along, and where good meals were shared.     

A UQAM art history graduate, Elise Anne LaPlante is an independent curator and writer. Back in her native Acadie, her research focuses primarily on the representation of women artists in Acadian art history. She is also interested in archives and writing as well as alternative practices that explore the ambiguous spaces between disciplines and reprogram art history for artistic purposes.