Public art program Microcosm facilitates ‘chance encounters with creativity’
By Aileen Duncan
Do you remember walking around your neighbourhood in March or April and seeing rainbows appear in people’s windows? A sign of hope, a message of gratitude towards essential workers, perhaps a Black Lives Matter poster. ‘We are in this together’, the signs proclaimed.
These “chance encounters with creativity” inspired staff from the City of Ottawa’s public art program. The city quickly conceived of a new program to bring artistic expression to each of the 23 wards in the city, by inviting an artist from each ward to create a public-facing art project.
The intention of Microcosm was to make a statement using art, and to capture a local perspective.
What is the project about?
A microcosm is defined as “a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger”.
“The name came from the idea that one person’s creative output could signify a larger effect,” said Sarah Patterson, a registrar of the City’s art collection. “We are all experiencing the same pandemic, but in our own ways.”
The basic parameters were simple - artists were challenged to produce a temporary, public-facing piece of art. Keeping the task open-ended was intentional in order to bring in art of different mediums.
“It’s informed by the idea of psychogeography – seeing your city in a different way and making use of public spaces that are underused, or not generally used for artwork,” said Patterson.
Learn more about psychogeography in art here: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/psychogeography
Where can I find the art in my neighbourhood?
So you want to run around the city discovering artwork? I know, me too.
The nature of this art program is to facilitate spontaneous creative outbursts, so it’s not really a scavenger hunt. Still, we’ve got your back with all the details!
Check out our exclusive list at the bottom of this article in order to learn about the projects taking place in your communities.
Microcosm began at the end of July. Some projects are ongoing, some have wrapped up already, and others are yet to come. September promises to bring projects to several wards!
The City set a goal to support an artistic project in every ward; however, an artist from the following wards were not identified: Beacon Hill-Cyrville (11); Gloucester-South Nepean (22); Kanata South (23). Could this artist be you?
If you live in one of these wards and you’d like to pitch your idea to the city, this is a great opportunity to do so. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest and share your project idea (Subject Line: Microcosm). Note that only one artist per ward will be selected.
How were the artists selected to participate?
As the program was conceived and delivered under short timelines, the city staff decided against pursuing an open Call for Proposals.
“We wanted to work with artists we had a good relationship with and who we knew could deliver a project in a short timeframe,” said Sarah Patterson. “This was a pilot program, if the project continued we would do it as an open call.”
This kind of program could be a stepping-stone for emerging artists, and it also provides a great entry point to those who may need a bit of support to participate in the arts. It can be important to create momentum when working on a new idea. However, not having an open Call for Proposals raises an eyebrow.
Bringing art into the streets.
At its heart, psychogeography is about exploring your city and understanding how your interactions with the built environment contribute to your experiences of living in Ottawa. The impromptu and public-facing elements of this project help make Ottawa a more dynamic place to live.
There is a lot of potential for community engagement in this kind of program. Local experts or new artists are full of ideas of how to enrich their neighbourhood, and they just need a bit of support. This sort of initiative could become a vital micro-granting program for small, temporary art projects.
If this is something you’d like to see more of in your neighbourhood, send a message to your councillor to express support.
Two projects include Guillermo Trejo - who has been pasting up drawings and studies on a billboard sign in Dundonald Park, and Natalie Bruvels – who painted the shadows of trees on pavement in collaboration with her young son.
Observers of street art know that the tags, stickers, and bubble letters are generally temporary additions to their neighbourhood. Murals are on the up-and-up as people have come to see them as beautiful and valid forms of art – but the original purpose of murals was to deter less polished forms of graffiti.
For Ottawa’s maintenance crews - removing graffiti is part of their regular clean up. So regular in fact, that an evening maintenance worker began to remove Natalie Bruvels’ Microcosm project on the same day that she had painted it! Luckily, a fan went to check it out after seeing the project on her Instagram, and was able to interrupt the clean up.
While I am secretly impressed at the efficiency by which the parks and green spaces are kept clean for our enjoyment, I think it might be time to revisit our graffiti policies.
Guillermo Trejo has been gluing posters on a billboard, and for this particular billboard, he is permitted to do this. However, that same action on a utility pole less than 20 feet away could result in criminal charge of mischief. Why is certain art sanctioned by the city and other similar projects are not?
“More access to culture and art is better any time,” said Guillermo Trejo. “Covid kind of forces the art sector to find alternative ideas and this project was one of the options, but I think this project could happen anyway. I really find interesting to have artist from each ward making art in their ‘territories’.”
Regardless of hasty timelines in which it was pulled together, Microcosm is a project with real potential to change the way that residents of Ottawa experience their city. I hope this pilot matures into an open and inclusive program that continues to enrich the public environment for years to come.
List of projects:
Thank you to Sarah Patterson from the City of Ottawa for preparing this list.
Project descriptions as provided by artists have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Orleans Ward, Laurena Finèus:
The search for love continues even in the face of great odds A mural with three 36x48’’ wheat paste posters, a reimagining of a selection of my family photos combined with images of children’s playgrounds from Orléans. The humanization of black bodies and migrant families will be a counter-narrative to the multiple violent images in the media, while the empty playgrounds are linked to the deep impact of the pandemic. In addition to the three posters, I will paint a red grid that will look like a crossword puzzle and it will include the quote by bell hooks: ‘’The search for love continues even in the face of great odds’’. Project is installed as of August 10, 2020 at Place d'Orleans, 2nd floor near the Bay. Mural will be up until the end of August.
Innes Ward, Christina Tzekova:
Ancient Symbols Reborn I am a mosaic artist influenced by Bulgarian folk art, such as woven rugs, aprons, and embroidery. I am planning to create a live size carpet (2 meters X 1.6 meters) constructed from stretched ropes on a wood frame and woven with real flowers and leaves. Project is installed week of August 23-29 at artist's house on lawn
Barrhaven Ward, Ranajit Sinha:
Still Burning Inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, I intend to create a 6-7 ft. sculpted charred human body comprising of wood and electronic technique along with some texts within the artwork. The effect of burning will be created electronically. My goal is to bring people’s attention the fact that we have lost a lot and will continue to lose more if we don’t take the necessary actions to protect racial harmony and what is important to the entire human race, our lives.
Kanata North Ward, Bozica Radjenovic:
No man is an island Restricted by space during the covid 19 quarantine I started to make accordion books in my living room. For this temporary project, I will continue with creating drawings and paper folds. Additionally I will do short videos and animation. I will post images and videos on Instagram and Facebook. Project is active on artist's social media July 19 – present
West Carleton-March Ward, Freeman Keats:
The Places of Ward 5 A photography series of the overlooked or under-appreciated places in Ward 5. The artist will produce a series of images and post them on his website; people will be directed to the website via posters with a QR code. Posters will be placed at high traffic locations such as OPL branch at Constance Bay, Carp Farmers' Market, Post Office. Artist's website: https://www.freemankeatsphotography.com/Microcosm
Stittsville Ward, Lynda Cronin:
Emerge Partnership with Banting Alternative School to work with students to produce abstract works on paper. September activation at old Fire Hall in Stittsville
Bay Ward, Katherine Takpannie:
A series of portraits of strong, beautiful, multinational individuals. These portraits are meant to be a starting point to engage in conversation, to be open to others’ experiences and to think about what living in a multicultural society means. Project is installed as of August 10, 2020 at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre
College Ward, Marianne Burlew:
Heal Using the baseball diamond at Centrepointe Park, the artist will place banners with text to illuminate a pathway of conflict resolution. Many community members walk the pathways of parks as a break and as a moment to process thoughts and feelings. This act of co-ambulation is key to seeking resolution and healing in our community at both the individual and collective level. Banners to be installed at Centrepointe Park Baseball diamond August 26 and on view for 2 weeks
Knoxdale-Merivale Ward, Barry Pottle:
To be Determined. A series of photographs making observations about the visible changes COVID has brought to our society. Photography series online, artist's social media.
Gloucester-Southgate Ward, Natalie Bruvels:
Tree Tops Tree Tops is an activation of the Greenboro pathway with painted shadows of the surrounding tree crowns on the path itself. The pathway connects a significant portion of ward 10 stretching from Cahill Drive to Hawthorne Road. The shadows of the tree tops will routinely line up with the paintings on the ground for a limited time during the day and under select conditions. Greenboro Park pathway, collaborative painting project with Artist's son. Installed as of August 15
Rideau-Vanier Ward, Laura Paolini:
To be Determined. Video installation in partnership with BIA - locations To be Determined, but the videos are currently viewable online. Videos can be viewed at the following links:
Three Weeks in Quarantine: (excerpt, shell scene)
Three Weeks in Quarantine (excerpt, fountain scene):
Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward, Prezidential Hoops Collective:
Seed money to commission an artist to design a concept for a mural in Overbrook (location To be Determined.)
Somerset Ward, Guillermo Trejo:
Open Studio A public billboard in Dundonald park will be used to create random compositions using old prints from my files and new drawings. The composition will evolve as the time passes, by the overlapping of works and the possible interactions of people. Installation in progress July 27 - present in Dundonald Park, viewable on artist's social media
Somerset Ward, Tiffany April:
Outside-in, Inside-out Public-facing window installation with hanging mirror sculpture and video projection at night. Other found objects such as organic and inorganic in the pace. Video will be a "map" of my usual path along the canal, a path walked for relaxation and to get exposure to nature during Covid. Installation was active July 28 - August 7, Gladstone Avenue storefront
Kitchissippi Ward, Maura Doyle:
Project To be Determined.
River Ward, Ryan Smeeton:
Installation involving painted aluminum composite panels Patio space of Carlington Coffee House on Merivale, installed last weekend of August
Capital Ward, Daniel Effah:
To be Determined. A photographic series with the narrative centered on a black man rediscovering a new sense of self in a space which was once familiar but now marred by uncertainty. Reflecting on the sounds of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”, this tells tale of resilience and the human spirit finding splendour and growth in the midst of concrete and uncertainty. Photography series will be shown online (September)
Alta Vista Ward, Anna Frlan:
Flower Power 2020 Installation of approximately 40 steel flowers to be placed in two large red flower pots. The flowers will symbolize housing and security issues of the Heron Gate community. Words will appear in some of the flowers, such as « home » and « equity » and other flowers will be based on symbolic imagery such as the outline of a house. The public will be invited to take the flowers to install in their own gardens. Outside the doors of the Heron Road Community Centre. Installation on August 29th, 2020
Cumberland Ward, Elizabeth Emond-Stevenson:
The artist will issue a public call for participants in Ward 19 and will collaborate with up to 5 groups/individuals to listen to their stories and accounts of life since Covid. The artist will then produce custom choreography and perform the choreography as intimate performances safely from a distance with optional participation elements. Custom choreographed dance performances in late August/September for residents of Ward 19
Osgoode Ward, Bonnie McQuillan:
A New Perspective A series of activities designed to facilitate new perspectives in the participants. Fifteen different worksheets of prompts to help to facilitate seeing your world a little bit differently. Each worksheet will have about 5 activities or questions or assignments that will be fairly simple to execute. Participants can just do the activities to change their perspective and or perception and or they can also extend it a little further and create some piece of art reflecting how they feel inspired. Activated via Artist's facebook page
Rideau-Goulbourn Ward, Manotick Culture, Parks & Recreation Association (MCPRA):
To be Determined. A curated series of musical performances at local restaurants.