Across Calgary’s alleyways, hundreds of thousands of garage doors sit blank and boring. It’s a different story in my inner-city neighbourhood of Sunnyside, where they’re considered to be blank canvases.
Stroll Sunnyside’s back lanes and you’ll see more than 20 bright garage door murals, depicting scenes including smiling bike riders, a cross-country skier, neighbourhood dogs and cats, the solar system and even a bathtub. Collectively, they transform monotonous alleyways into a vibrant outdoor art gallery. Let’s go explore.
The first alley art in my neighbourhood appeared about two decades ago, when a teenager who wanted to be a graffiti artist was given a garage door to paint. That mural by Aerosolic led to two other painted garages in the same alley.
Sunnysider Christie Page loved that original alley art. It made her want to paint her own garage door, but she worried what the neighbours would think.
Then new neighbours moved in, and a few weeks later, they had a friend paint their garage door.
“She just went and did it, and I thought that was really cool. And so that summer I painted mine,” Page tells me.
Now, in the back lane behind Page’s house, you’ll see black and white mountains beneath a clear blue sky on her neighbour’s garage, and a white bathtub filled to the brim on Page’s garage — a reflection on the June 2013 flood that affected hundreds of Sunnyside homes.
In the past five years, Page has become somewhat of an alley art evangelist. She encourages residents to paint their own garages or hire local artists, curates a Google map and Instagram page of Sunnyside’s growing outdoor gallery, and hosts Jane’s Walks touring garage art.
Why? Page says art adds joy to the neighbourhood, while also bringing more eyes to back alleys, thus making spaces safer.
In turn, residents have responded with growing imagination.
A large garage door was turned into a community chalk board in 2017, while a mural completed this summer includes art bursting above the garage door.
There’s also an alley art benefit particular to our times: back lanes provide more space for physical distancing than skinny sidewalks.
I’ve experienced this firsthand, as walking has become one of the few ways I socialize these days. Taking a friend on a wander down Sunnyside’s cheerful alleys is guaranteed to bring a smile.
The newest stop I’m making on such walks is Jennifer Blanchard’s garage door, which was painted in mid-October. Blanchard tells me she has long admired other artwork in Sunnyside, and long thought that garage doors are probably the ugliest aspect of any house.
She decided to improve her own garage after neighbours in her alley had their garage painted with a panda this summer.
“That was kind of the one that put me over the edge of, well, if they can do it, I’d like to contribute too,” Blanchard says.
So she commissioned local artist duo Nasarimba, who asked her to share colours she liked and any subject matter she had in mind. Blanchard suggested something inspired by the Alberta wilderness, as she’s been spending a lot more time outdoors during this pandemic year. The result is a stunning wolf, staring out from a stylized forest.
“On my way to work I’ve kind of ducked down my alley with no reason, just to look at it and admire it,” Blanchard says. “I like that it’s bright and it’s interesting.”
The situation in Blanchard’s alley, of one mural giving rise to another, is common.
“There’s definitely been a snowball effect: the more that get painted, the more that will be painted,” Page says.
Plus, it’s no longer just garage doors receiving a facelift.
“I ask people who don’t have a garage door to paint their fence or garbage bin,” Page says. “There are so many things that would be better with a mural.”
Neighbours have heeded such calls, including Richard and Buff Smith. Instead of painting their garage door, the Smiths enlisted their extended family’s help a few years ago to turn the large fence on their corner lot into an eye-catching mural.
“Christie Page has been instrumental in whipping up enthusiasm for this,” Buff Smith says.
The Smith’s fence mural started as a Christmas gift, with Richard promising Buff a painted fence that their out-of-town children and grandchildren would work on together.
Initially, the couple’s son-in-law, a graphic designer, was going to draft the piece, but then his 14-year-old son stepped in. Miró Esteban’s design includes mythical creatures in bold landscapes.
Over a chilly Easter weekend, the Smiths worked with seven family members to project the design onto the fence, trace it, then paint it.
The finished piece has attracted a lot of attention over the past few years, Buff says, with neighbourhood kids wanting to know the names of the characters, and people travelling from other communities to have their photo taken in front of the one-of-a-kind fence.
In addition to art on fences and garage doors, Sunnyside also has painted houses and a rainbow under an LRT bridge. This summer, five more public pieces were completed during the Sunnyside Murals Project, and in June, my community’s traditionally boisterous Neighbour Day Park Party was replaced with a physically distanced art crawl that featured live art on garage doors.
One of the artists involved was freelance illustrator Adrienne Tollas. Tollas says she was super excited, and a little intimidated, when Sunnysider Curtis Mah asked if he could commission her to paint his garage door.
“It’s a big painted piece that’s going to hopefully last for a long time,” Tollas says. “It’s a privilege to be a part of.”
The piece, titled Roots, reflects the house’s history. An early resident founded the longtime local business Sunnyside Greenhouses, and planted and nurtured the backyard plants that still grow today.
Mah, who rents the house, wanted to paint the garage as a way to contribute to his community. An unexpected benefit, he says, is the mural sparks conversation with neighbours and other passersby.
“A mural is one of the easiest ways to brighten up the space around your community,” he says. “I’m surprised more people don’t do it.”
As art continues to blossom in Sunnyside, I hope to be a part of it. The condo building where I live doesn’t have garage doors, but we do have a fence and shed. Like so many other spaces in our city, they’re just waiting for a splash of colour and creativity.
More Sunnyside alley art
Art is good medicine in these trying times – ThePeterboroughExaminer.com
The pandemic has placed unique stresses on our community, with economic anxiety — combined with worry for the well-being of loved ones — affecting our collective mental health. That’s why it’s important to remember that Peterborough has always had the arts to bring us together. For years, artists, art therapists, and community organizations in Peterborough have worked with the shared understanding that the arts can have a beneficial effect on our mental health.
“Over the last 10 years I’ve been part of a number of art projects that engage with community members,” says John Marris, a community artist and consultant based in Peterborough. “Particularly those who face marginalization through poverty, disability and mental illness.”
Over the years — and to this day — a number of local artists in Peterborough have been involved in projects at The Mount Community Centre, the Youth Emergency Shelter (YES), Peterborough Regional Health Centre, and the Abbey Retreat Centre cancer care facility — to name only a few.
“There are many local artists involved in these projects,” says Brian Nichols, a Peterborough-based artist and psychotherapist who uses art therapy in his practice. “We don’t teach artmaking — we explore possibilities with folks who attend. It’s usually not possible to discern who is the ‘teacher’ and who is the ‘student.’ We’re all in it together, and that’s the fun of it.”
Prior to COVID-19, the open studios program at The Mount Community Centre had between 20 and 30 participants each week. Now, the program is limited to eight people who must register to attend, and must be residents at The Mount.
“Brian and I have just completed a six-week program of weekly art making sessions at The Mount for Mount residents,” says Marris. “Historically, before COVID-19, Brian was facilitating a roster of artists working in sessions that were open to the whole community to drop in and make art. This had been going on for two years.”
The pandemic has made these kinds of practices more challenging. Fortunately, there are innovative ways to work around the restrictions.
“I’ve just been involved in a pilot project where folks were sent a package of fabric and fibres, needles and thread and invited to ‘Take a Thread and Follow it,’” says Nichols. “The pilot was created for people living with health challenges.”
Nichols says he often leaves out the word “art,” as it can intimidate or exclude some people. Instead, he thinks of the practice as simply “making stuff.” The idea is to make the process as open as possible.
“Not everyone can be a Picasso,” says Marris, “but everyone has the capacity to express themselves, and needs to.”
Whether one considers oneself a serious artist or not, these kinds of programs, and the active involvement of both artists and non-artists, have been proven to have real societal benefit.
“There’s a ton of data now on some almost miraculous healing effects of immersion in various forms of art,” says Gord Langill, director of programs and services for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge. “Many mainstream community mental health programs in our communities now offer expressive arts groups and activities.”
There is great diversity in how arts and mental health can interact. There is Expressive Arts Therapy, the form of therapy Nichols employs, which is a proven tool for all sorts of healing, whether physical, mental, neurological or spiritual. There are galleries like Artspace, an artist-run centre in Peterborough, which has a history of supporting mental health recovery work. And then there are multidisciplinary arts organizations like Workman Arts — one of Langill’s favourites — which promotes a greater understanding of mental health and addiction.
“I have collaborated with Workman Arts on projects in my field of Early Psychosis Intervention, hosting visual and performance art exhibits at our conferences,” he says. “All of the work is produced by people living with mental health issues. For these shows, we brought visual art pieces and the young artists who created them from all over Ontario to our conferences in Toronto. They are always so moving for audiences, so empowering for artists.”
Many of these approaches have one thing in common: they bridge the individual creative experience with a sense of community. This can help to address mental health issues that are connected to social isolation.
“There is a lot to be said for thinking of art as a collective experience,” says Annie Jaeger, a Peterborough-based visual artist. “Sit in a theatre, or listen to music, or read the same book — it is not entirely a solitary enjoyment. I think that’s kind of profound.”
That said, it would be wrong to assume that all artists are necessarily engaged in self-therapy. Though there is plenty of evidence to support the mental health benefits of art — for individuals, as well as for the community at large — the practice of making art is multifold.
“I resist the ‘art as therapy’ characterization,” says Jaeger. “Certainly, it is therapeutic — but so is fresh air. We need it.”
What is clear is that artmaking, and the appreciation of that making, can help to create community, which is good for the mental health of us all. It can empower and enrich, providing, in Brian Nichols’ words — “another way to think about and imagine the world.”
And that world can be an interesting an inspiring place, perhaps a little brighter than the one we inhabit in the day-to-day. As the celebrated Peterborough poet PJ Thomas says in the poem “Crimson Flowers,” from the recently released collection, Undertow: “ … the weather always changes, / and we will someday have / clear sailing again.”
This series of articles about the arts, culture and heritage sector in Peterborough is presented by the Electric City Culture Council (EC3).
EC3 is a not-for-profit service organization supporting the arts, culture and heritage sector in Peterborough and the surrounding region.
EC3 provides strategic leadership, research, resources and connections that build and strengthen the sector.
EC3, along with the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough, is currently raising funds for the Peterborough Arts Alive Fund, to provide Strategic Recovery and Resilience Grants for local arts organizations affected by COVID-19. You can donate at https://cfgp.ca/project/arts-alive-fund/.
Three to See Saturday: Churchill lights, SNAP art sale and the awesome VISSIA – Edmonton Journal
Holiday Light Up: The Downtown Business Association is teaming up with multiple partners to add a little warm glow to the core, and being outside we can all easily keep our distance. Six installations will be rolled out at different downtown locations over the next week, lit in stages though Jan. 8 in the evenings. The first two are Transformation: Promise and Wisdom by Sharon Rose Kootenay and Jason Symington — with an assist form The Works Art & Design Festival — and Winter Wonder by Vicky Mitall, and can now be viewed at Sir Winston Churchill Square. New installations around the inner grid will be updated on the DBA website — edmontontondowntown.com/holidaylightup.
Details: Every night at — so far — Churchill Square, no charge
SNAP Annual Members Show & Sale: From personal experience I can tell you this is one of the easiest and most appreciated ways of getting your “happy season” shopping out of the way, the gift of magnificent, meticulously-crafted art — now just a click away thanks to the hated 2020 plague. That said, if you book ahead at snapartists.com, you can still wander through the space. “When people make an appointment they have the entire gallery to themselves for 30 minutes,” explains SNAP exec April Dean. “The whole show is up and framed in the gallery and it looks beautiful. There’s 85 framed prints up, ready to deck your halls, if you will.” If you can’t make it Saturday, don’t worry, show’s up though Dec. 19, at which point the hardworking staff will take a break and be back in the new year, just another thing about 2021 that’s going to be awesome.
Details: noon on at SNAP Gallery (10572 115 St.) or online at snapartists.com
VISSIA: If all that sounds a little too “near any other human” for you, it’s about time you spent some virtual time with local singer Alex Vissia, who’ll be having some musical quality time with her fans and having a party to celebrate the release of her new single, About Moving On. This all happens on facebook.com/vissiamusic, you can do it!
Charlottetown's arts advisory board to compile report on public art for city council – The Guardian
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —
Charlottetown city council will be receiving a report about adding public art to the downtown by the end of January.
The city’s arts advisory board met on Tuesday to begin the process of summarizing its Imagine Charlottetown initiative.
“We’re going to write a summary of our campaign and each (arts advisory) board member is going to write a page on their expertise,” said Barb MacLeod, chairwoman of the board. “We’re going to present that to city council.”
The board hosted an open house in March just before public health restrictions were introduced around the COVID-19. The goal was to give residents a sneak peek at ideas that were submitted as part of the initiative as a first step in the process.
However, everything quickly came to a halt, all but putting the process on hold. Things got moving again in late October. Board members begin soliciting expressions of interest from building owners who might be keen to have a mural placed on the side of their structure.
As with anything, money is an issue and there are bylaws to navigate around. The board wants to make sure council is as educated as possible before moving any further.
“Hopefully, if we’ve done a good job (on the report) we will start to have them consider public art as a priority for the city; something that needs attention,” said MacLeod.
The report will include various funding channels money for public art can be accessed through.
MacLeod points to the success of public art in Halifax as what is possible. The Halifax Regional Municipality facilitates the creation and acquisition of quality public art and ensures that professional artists are involved in its creation. The Halifax region has more than 250 pieces of public art projects and installations.
“We have had such incredibly fun conversations and our visions for the city are so wonderful. We’re really hoping to be able to encapsulate what we talk about in our meetings into this summary.”
MacLeod said the ultimate goal is to have public art projects and installations reflect the people of Charlottetown.
“It’s not just about putting a mural on the side of a building,” she said. “It’s about lifting up a community in so many different ways.”
Dave Stewart is the municipal reporter for The Guardian.
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