A fund has been set up in Saskatoon to raise money for a bronze statue to honour Joni Mitchell, one of Saskatoon's most famous daughters, and it's getting international support.
The initiative was undertaken by Sarah Gibb, an expatriate Englander who moved to the city last year and has been a longtime fan of the accomplished painter, poet, singer and songwriter.
"My first thought when I saw the downtown was, 'What, no Joni Mitchell statue?'" she said. "She's known all over the world and whether you like her music or not, there's no denying she's been tremendously influential on a whole generation of artists. I was amazed Saskatoon wasn't celebrating her.
"I at least expected plaques saying, 'This is where Joni Mitchell lived' and 'This is where she went to school' and 'This is where she first sang in public'. We do this in England with our novelists, artists and historical figures, and it often injects a lot of visitors into an area because they want to see where Charles Dickens stayed when he wrote Bleak House or whatever."
Mitchell is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and listed No. 5 on VHI's list of The 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll. She was given the Order of Canada earlier this year, the nation's highest honour for lifetime achievement.
Gibb was inspired to take action after reading a StarPhoenix story about a British Columbia man who wrote a letter to Saskatoon city council suggesting the council commission a statue. Mark Salzl was raised in Paradise Hill but plans to eventually move from B.C. to Saskatoon, which he calls his "home city".
But a program doesn't exist for commissioning artwork. Salzl was told to look into private sponsorships.
Recognizing the difficulty of campaigning two provinces away, Gibb took up the venture. A committee was created consisting of Gibb, Salzl and Les Irvin, founder of a Joni Mitchell Web site and discussion list (www.jmdl.com) in California.
"Already, in response to the fund being set up, fans on the discussion list are talking about a pilgrimage to Saskatoon to have photographs taken with the statue," said Gibb.
Salzl is amazed his suggestion garnered so much attention and that the process has begun.
"I have to chuckle about the power of one little letter," he said. "But I don't think it would have happened so quick if Sarah didn't take it up. I'm very pleased," he said, adding he has received e-mails of encouragement from people in San Francisco.
The committee's effort is The Joni Mitchell's Beside Herself Fund, stemming from an interview two weeks ago when Joni Mitchell talked about a bench with a statue of herself sitting at one end. She remarked that when she came here and sat on the bench, she could literally be beside herself.
She expressed a preference for something that wasn't "on a pedestal" because it's not her style. It should be functional "where people could sit and muse," she said.
The good-humoured Mitchell often visits her parents, who still live here. She said a statue would be an honour as well as "a place for birds to perch."
Gibb and the rest of the committee members plan to approach local businesses for donations, as well as city council "who we hope will give us permission to locate the statue in a prominent place," she said. "We would love to see it overlooking the river near the Bessborough Hotel, as Joni Mitchell has the Bessborough featured on the cover of one of her early albums, Clouds."
Another option is to have it in Broadway, where Mitchell started her singing career in the Louis Riel coffee house, as it was known then. Calories now occupies that spot. Regardless of where the statue goes, the coffee house site should have a commemorative plaque, said Gibb.
The committee is in the process of approaching artists to have a campaign poster designed for distribution around the city. Joe Farfard, the Saskatchewan sculptor whose work in bronze is known internationally, has told the committee he is interested in doing the piece.
"We don't know when we'll be in a position to commission something, as we have no idea how long it will take to raise the money," said Gibb. "We estimate we're going to need $100,000-$120,000, and so far we have $175. But we're determined to raise the rest."
If anyone would like to help, the committee can be reached at BesideHerself@shaw.ca.
Donations can be made directly to the fund at the Saskatoon Credit Union, Broadway Avenue branch, account number 7230444. Or cheques and money orders can be sent to Joni Mitchell's Beside Herself, P.O. Box 22100 (RPO Wildwood), Saskatoon, S7H 5P1.
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