The History of the Parkdale Park Art Wall
It all started with an idea
Public art has always been a defining feature of Hintonburg and Wellington Village. And the Wellington West BIA has long worked to foster this spirit, to build the area’s reputation as a hub for creative, artistic expression.
So when well known Hintonburg artist, Daniel Martelock approached the BIA in 2018 with an idea to create a public painting wall as a free-form “graffiti wall”, where artists would be free to express themselves visually, we loved the idea! We’re big fans of Dan’s “Bird Army” paintings and other quirky, whimsical pieces on walls and Bell Boxes around the neighbourhood, and he keeps coming up with new ideas we love – like those little painted bird houses that resemble Hintonburg businesses.
So with Dan as the inspiration, and Parkdale Park as the perfect spot in the heart of Wellington West beside the historic Parkdale market, we applied for a 2019 City of Ottawa grant.
But it turns out city officials weren’t quite as enthusiastic; they liked the idea of an “ArtWall” structure and paintings in the park, they just weren’t keen on the “graffiti” part. So we promised to come back with a revised proposal.
Back to the drawing (and painting) board
So the BIA worked with Dan in the spring of 2019 to brainstorm a new model for the ArtWall, to balance Dan’s idea of free-form creation for all in a public park with the City’s desire for low risk and predictability in public art projects.
The answer? Dual surfaces! We decided to cover one side with blackboard paint to serve as a community chalkboard that would allow for anyone to come along and freely express themselves through art, but still allow for art to be very quickly and easily erased or replaced. The other side of the wall would become an easel for commissioned professional artists to come and practice their craft in a community space.
Dan took on the work of designing and overseeing the construction of the wooden structure. And with Dan’s network in the public community, we were quickly arrange a lineup of several experienced mural artists to paint the ArtWall through the summer and fall of 2019.
The problem? It was too nice to paint over!
Our original concept was to treat the mural side of the ArtWall like the original “graffiti wall” concept. So new art would simply be painted over top of the previous artwork, making each painting its own fleeting, ethereal experience.
But once the inaugural ArtWall mural (below) was painted by Dan Metcalfe during The Happening Arts Park in June 2019, his amazing portrait work created a new conundrum. Because whenever people were finished raving to us about that first, stunning mural, their next comment was always the same: “YOU CAN’T JUST PAINT OVER THAT!! IT NEEDS TO GO SOMEWHERE!!!”
Luckily, we found a very easy solution in the ArtWall structure itself. We simply unscrewed the 4″ by 8″ sheet of plywood, replaced it with a fresh one, and stashed the painting away in the Parkdale Park field house until we could figure out a good use for it. More on later.
But of course, it happened again
Next up was Dom Laporte with his delightful take on a crane interacting with a fly.
And that was followed by Ryan Smeaton’s glorious French bulldog with a flower behind her ear, painted during the annual 2019 Dog Movie Night in the park.
And then the year was closed out by Artwall designer, Dan Martelock himself with a swell swarm of helpful bees that was a hit with the neighbourhood kids.
And with each new painting, we didn’t have the heart to paint it over, so off it came and into storage it went, with high hopes for a second round of artwork, a public call for 2020 artists, more music and animation around the painting days, and an “adoption” program that would start to get the existing artwork panels out of storage and onto walls across the BIA… or that was the plan at least.
Then there was COVID
Year two for the ArtWall was 2020, and, well, you can imagine why things didn’t *quite* work out as planned when any activities – much less community gatherings in the park – were prohibited through the spring and early summer.
Then by August, with some more emergency assistance from Dan, we were finally able to kick off a condensed schedule of murals again. Sadly, we had to scrap a lot our plan for an open call, and a lot of other plans conflicted with COVID rules, so the paintings happened with full social distancing, no advertising, music, or events.
But even so, in 2020 we still got to see some incredible artwork from Kina Forney. Robbie LaRiviere. Kalkidan Assefa. Claudia Salguero. And again Daniel Martelock, who closed off the season with his leaping fox.
Which brings us to 2021
With yet more COVID uncertainty, we’ve admittedly been a bit slow to get the season off of the ground. But we’re really excited by a few new things!
- Public call for artists: the very first open call is now live for any artists who want to bring their work to the Parkdale Park Art Wall. Our hope with the open call is to further diversify the voices expressed through community art in the neighbourhood, and also to provide an opportunity to talented artists who might otherwise have not had a chance to create public art.
- Program producer Kseniya Tsoy: an artistic producer and community-engaged artist with a focus on creative projects with a social purpose. If you’ve noticed that Rosie The Riveter inspired drawing of an immigrant woman on the Bell box just across the street from the Parkdale Market, then you’ve seen Kseniya’s work.
- Music and art: And for the wall’s very first public art installation of 2021, Kseniya will be working alongside BIA business owner Melanie Yugo from Possible Worlds, a fellow artist who is passionate about empowering citizens – particularly those who are underrepresented – through socially-engaged platforms to participate in, lead, and shape community and cultural life in Canada.
- All the ArtWall murals out of storage! We are just about to store those older murals outside the field house. Our good friend and industrial designer Ian Murchison engineered a custom bracket-and-frame system that allows us to attach the murals to the metal grated exterior in a way that won’t damage the art or the building. You can see the first example below – installed as a successful test on July 16.
- Adopt a mural!!! So voila! A de facto art gallery, where every park visitor will have the chance to see the work. And if you’re a local business or commercial property owner who likes one of these pieces for your own wall, talk to us! We’d be delighted to discuss how you may give an ArtWall mural a proper home somewhere else in the community!
- More Martelock! And in tribute to Dan Martelock who got this whole project going, we’ll once again be giving him the honour of painting the “anchor mural” in the Fall that will grace the Park for six months – until we hopefully start all this over again next year!