Obituary: Evi Westmore

25 Mar 2007 in Visual Arts & Crafts

Evi Westmore 1975—2007

ROBERT LIVINGSTON pays tribute to Evi Westmore, the Public Art Coordinator for Inverness, who died last weekend

WHEN HI~ARTS, The Inverness City Partnership, and the Local Enterprise Company for Inverness and East Highlands agreed to create a new post of Public Art Coordinator for Inverness, all of us involved knew that we would be looking for an exceptional individual.

On the one hand, Inverness was poised for an unparalleled explosion of public art: the new Centre for Health Sciences, the Old Town Streetscape programme, the rebuilt and enlarged Eden Court theatre, the revived Victorian landscape of the Ness Islands, and very much more.

On the other hand, Inverness had almost no tradition of public art. There was only one public sculpture in the entire city which had been erected in the last 100 years—and it was not exactly popular!

When Evi Westmore submitted her application from the USA, we were intrigued by her background and experience, but we had to consider whether we could justify the cost of flying Evi over for an interview. In the end, we took the plunge.

It was the best investment we could have made. I have sat on scores of interview panels, and never has a panel made a unanimous decision so promptly! Evi had brilliantly anticipated all the important issues that this new post would need to cover: being bold, ambitious, and international in scope, yet at the same time understanding, and being fully responsive to the unique context of Inverness.

It’s an often-used, but true, cliché that some people can light up a room. Evi was one of those people. She is sorely missed

We had set candidates the challenge of giving a presentation as if to the Inverness Chamber of Commerce. We could have booked Evi in to give her presentation that very day, without changing an image or a word.

Coupled with this knowledge and understanding of the sensitivities involved in the public art arena went an energy, a huge enthusiasm and a commitment that ensured she was going to treat her new post as very much more than just a nine-to-five job. And Evi had that special quality that meant, meeting her for the first time, you very quickly felt as if you had known her for years.

Evi’s background had clearly helped to shape her character and abilities—born in Japan to American parents, she had travelled extensively throughout the world, working in many different countries and environments, and learning to live light and adapt quickly.

Prior to applying for the Inverness post she had completed a three-year post-graduate course at Glasgow School of Art, which had included developing a public art project in the city of Umeå in northern Sweden.

This proved to be an enormous coincidence of which, at the time of applying, Evi herself was unaware, as Umeå was already being seen as a highly relevant model for many aspects of the growth of Inverness.

Evi took up her post in October 2005. Such was the pace of development that she had to hit the ground running, selecting lead artists for the almost-complete Centre for Health Sciences, and for the Streetscape programme, and working with a project manager to put together a team of artists and makers for the regeneration work on the Ness Islands.

All of this while also taking every opportunity to promote the concepts of public art in every possible setting, formal and informal. This first phase culminated in the extraordinary event in September 2006, Imagining the Centre, in which lead artist Matt Baker assembled a team of local artists and helpers to deliver a unique and unforgettable programme of happenings on the streets of the ‘old town’ of Inverness.

But by the time this remarkably bold event was being staged, Evi herself was confined to a ward in Raigmore Hospital, having been diagnosed as suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. At first her parents flew over from New York State to be with her, but as the scale and complexity of her illness became clear, they made the decision to take Evi back to the USA, where she could live at home while receiving the best specialist treatment.

Over the next six months there was a regular flow of e-mails back and forth across the Atlantic. Evi’s messages were always full of enthusiasm, optimism, and a deep frustration at being held back from doing the work which she cared so much about.

The last of those messages was as recently as mid-February and, as with all of them, it showed Evi looking forward eagerly to a time when she could resume a ‘normal’ life. It was not to be. Evi succumbed to the lymphoma on Sunday, March 18 2007.

Her fight against her illness had been courageous and resolute. But for all of us who now feel her absence so acutely, it is her vivacity and zest that will remain with us. It’s an often-used, but true, cliché that some people can light up a room. Evi was one of those people. She is sorely missed.

© Robert Livingston, 2007