Sunday, January 13, 2008

All Phil Alain wants is eight minutes of world peace
Local artist picks 8th day of 8th month of 2008 for pacifist event
Scott McKeen, The Edmonton Journal
Published: yesterday 3:01 am

Phil Alain is asking for a little peace.

Not peace for a year. Not peace in our time. Just eight lousy minutes of world peace. He wonders: Is it beyond humanity's ability to achieve such a thing?

Alain, it should be noted, is not your stereotypical peace activist. The former college hockey player is now an Edmonton artist, first and foremost.

His moody, stylized series of jazz-themed paintings hang in homes and businesses all over this city and beyond. He's often seen at local events like the Works, painting and peddling his artwork to regular folk.

This ethic -- of taking art outside of snooty galleries -- also led him to create a music and visual arts event known as Night of Artists.

The annual tour features gala nights of song and painting, with a living market of unheralded local artists displaying and selling their works.

Going against stereotype, Alain eschewed government grants for this effort, preferring to make Night of Artists self-supporting.

First, through ticket sales. But also by attracting local sponsors by offering businesses and their employees a team-building event around a canvas.

Yet Alain is best known for his work with friend Lewis Lavoie in creating huge mosaic murals. They invite artists -- and in one case, a ham-handed columnist -- to paint one single panel, with specific instructions on use of colour and space.

Amazingly, once the panels are assembled, a single vision emerges of Alain and Lavoie's intended image.

Brilliant stuff, indeed. So much so that the murals have been displayed at major events including the Alberta centennial, in front of the Queen.

The mosaic murals have garnered interest from afar. A website devoted to the effort -- -- now gets as many as 100,000 hits a day. An Internet video of the murals was a hit in Japan and Korea.

Alain and Lavoie are being flown this month to Utah, where there's interest in having them co-ordinate a freedom mural. And British Columbia's Galiano Island wants the pair to foster a mural to commemorate the upcoming Vancouver Olympics.

The moral of the mural is that the creative energy of the many can be united in a single effort -- that the artistic whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

This ethic led Alain to dream a bigger dream of unity. He calls it simply "8." Alain says he was struck recently by how lucky we are to live in a city that is safe from war or terror attacks.

The number 8 came to him, in part, because he turns 40 this week, on Jan. 8. But he also knew that in some cultures 8 is revered as a symbol of unity and infinity.

So he launched "8" as a group on the global Internet meeting site Facebook. So far, about 900 people have signed up.

It's opening line sums it all up: Can we create eight minutes of world peace?

The idea is to promote the idea for Aug. 8 of this year -- the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008. It is also the day of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in China.

"It may be a dream or a ridiculous fantasy to believe that something like this can begin through a page such as this," writes Alain on the Facebook screen. "But I believe that we have to dare to dream and I know that the only way to make dreams come true is to follow your heart."
Alain also plans events on the eighth day of every month. The first -- Concert for Peace -- will be this Tuesday evening at the Alex Taylor School at 8 p.m. Eight musicians and eight visual artists will perform and display their work.

He's hoping people around the world pick up on the idea to spread the word and launch their own peace events.

Alain admits to being "scared to death" about his latest venture. First, he's out of his comfort zone and into the political realm.

Second, because he knows some people will think of him as terribly naive; that his idea for global peace is at best "cute."

"I'll be honest, I don't know much about politics," says Alain. "I'd lose in a debate every time."

But as he says, he never likes ideas to just sit in his head. Better to put them out there and see what happens.

"I know I can't change the world. I'm no fool," he says. "But I hope people show leadership on this and make some noise. At the very least, we can make a statement."

Such things don't take much time. Just eight peaceful minutes.

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