For five years, the child abuse Survivors Monument has stood in a donated studio waiting to be cast in bronze. Eighteen-year-old Zachary Irving recently raised the alarm that at the end of May the sculpture created by 300 child abuse survivors and supporters could be sliced up and placed in storage.
Some fear that the monument, conceived by Irving's dad, psychotherapist and sculptor Michael Irving, could go the way of Leonardo's horse, a 24-foot monument for the Duke of Milan. When the duke suddenly found he needed all his bronze for weapons, the casting was delayed and the duke's enemies used the clay horse for target practice. That kind of fate for the survivors monument would be a great tragedy, and a shame in this city of millionaires.
Inspired by the Vietnam War Memorial, Michael Irving equates the experience of child abuse to life in war. Encountering him as a fellow community artist in 1993, I didn't understand how his worthy idea could be accomplished or how it would be something anyone could bear to look at.
But Irving found a way. In workshops held across the country, he cast the hands of survivors in wax so that, even if they couldn't reveal their names, their identities would be represented. He taught them to sculpt so they could surround their handprints with words and images.
I was part of the crew that put the monument together in 2000 with the help of a Millennium grant. We draped two 12-foot-high figures with quilts flowing from their outstretched arms. Each square is a journey, a kaleidoscope of imagery. There are guardian dragons, chains, walls, eyes, mouths, tears, cascading bells and teddy bears, angels fluttering like butterflies. Mike Irving was prostituted as a child, and he filled his square with tiny toys, the treasures of a lost childhood.
My job was to make rubber moulds of the survivors' artworks and cast them in wax. It was an exciting time: musicians played on volunteer nights, enthusiasts arranged receptions and tours to attract the wealthy, and those who'd created squares visited as we worked.
Among the monument volunteers were Imants Kruze and Mara Kruze, parents of Martin Kruze, who first revealed the sexual abuse that occurred at Maple Leaf Gardens. He committed suicide after his abuser was sentenced to only two years in jail. At the family's request, a cast was taken of his hand in the funeral home.
Martin Kruze's father believes that the Survivor Monument could perform vital services by assisting in healing, counselling vigilance and even helping child victims to disclose. "Look how long that was happening to Martin," says Kruze, "and we never knew. A monument like this in a public place could help kids realize that they're not alone, so they could reach out for help. If it helps even one kid, it's all worthwhile."
There was considerable corporate, government and agency support for educationsal activities carried out under the umbrella of the survivor monument project. Irving was invited to create posters and brochures that used survivors' imagery, and to set up displays and visit schools. "If the monument could have been paid for as social programming, it would have been finished in 2001," he says.
So while there has often been a flurry of activity around the monument, money to turn it into bronze has been elusive.
The site was also a problem. The monument fell outside the city's definition of public art. Queen's Park was Michael Irving's original dream, a place both public and contemplative. But a lengthy attempt to convince the province was unsuccessful.
Under the influence of current federal Minister of Social Development Ken Dryden, Toronto Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment rescued the project by contributing money and a site at the Air Canada Centre. Chief operating officer Tom Anselmi affirms the commitment of his organization. "Given the history of Maple Leaf Gardens, making sure that it gets finished is important to us."
As the wax figure cracks and crumbles, the delay also wears on the participants. The first figure has languished at the foundry since 1999 and could be cast for $150,000. Another $206,000 will finish the second figure.
Will Andras describes a frequent problem faced by the fundraising team: "We usually get to the point where we're ready for something to go forward and then things start to crumble or unravel. I think part of it is that the issue is something people just don't like to deal with."
A survivor whose family experienced abuse over several generations tells me how she searched for her late mother's quilt square. "One day when I wasn't feeling the greatest, I went looking for it because I didn't know that it hadn't been cast. Not finding it at the Air Canada Centre was quite devastating because my mom worked so hard. So I got on the phone and asked Michael, 'Where is it?'"
Irving's strength makes it easy to forget that he's also a survivor and that every delay is also a delay in his own resolution. It's a drain on his family, which is maxed out and multiple-mortgaged. The family has abandoned hope of recouping its losses, but the monument's completion will enable them to move on.
It's time for the rest of the city to get on side and, in Zac Irving's words, "get the damn thing finished."