The Bambinos installation is nearing completion at Gladstone-Preston. It is an installation as part of the Preston streetscaping project. The street has an arch at the south end, an art gallery installation under the Queensway overpass, and at one point was to have a stainless steel gondola at the north end. The Postcards from the Piazza sculpture series lines the streets. The large-globed pedestrian scale lights are deliberately set back from the curb to create a a separate space, a colonnade with trees, for the passagio. Every one of these things was criticized in its day.
And now there is the Bambinos.
Only the cj fleury sculpture series is Official Art, paid for by the City, sanctified by bureaucrats, and somewhat maintained by the City (the paint refreshing done this summer, though, is much more akin to vandalism than maintenance).
The Bambinos is a placemaking project, attempting to create a place on a linear street that is weakened at the very centre by the decision of the city that the highest and best use of its land at the intersection of two traditional mainstreets, is a parking lot behind a berm. Hidden behind a high fence on the opposite side are the playing fields of a non-local high school. Gladstone going east is extraordinarily wide, weak and vacuous. The west side of the street is better off, with buildings and sidewalk activity right up to the corner.
In such an empty space, whatever landscaping installation put there had to be big and dramatic to catch the eye. The 21′ high concrete Bambinos is in scale with the site. It is a marketing tool of the BIA that collected the funds and paid for it. So it reinforces the branding exercise of the street, much the same way as the Chinatown Arch does for Chinatown/Somerset Street.
The BIA could have done something else with its marketing funds, like put a map of the street with every merchant on it, into every edition of the local paper. Other BIA’s do that. Useless, but it pacifies the locals who like to see their name in print. Or it could run Sunday festivals, when most of the merchants are closed, like another BIA does. I give the Preston BIA full marks for guts and initiative in the many physical improvements it has put along the street. Would we rather have had nothing but unread print adverts?
The installed piece is very similar to the conceptual drawings circulated in previous years. I see no evidence of “bait and switch”. Trust me, dealing with the city and the various plans on the west side gives me plenty of experience with bait and switch. The Bambinos was supposed to be on a field of cut stone that completely paved the intersection, creating a focal point, but the City didn’t want motorists “confused” by decorative paving so only the bits on the sidewalks were installed (and paid for, by the BIA).
I don’t give much credence to suggestions it is to complete a series, with Maman being at the gallery, (is that even unique, being one of several identical pieces? ). That argument strikes me as a rationalization.
For people who get upset with the Bambinos, please compare it with the sono-tube bodies and Lego arms of this on Elgin, and see if you feel comforted:
Putting some giantl Lego heads on that sculpture might be an improvement.
Or this vehicle-Art parked on the boulevard in the Glebe:
There is lots of stuff in the City that some consider art, and some consider Art. Some of it we are compelled to pay for, with City staff and their consultants selecting the art. Other bits are paid for by corporations or government agencies. The local BIA’s that have participated in art competitions, or installed their own (lower-case “a”) art, deserve our support and gratitude for doing something. It is not necessary that everyone like everything. Aside from being impossible, it would likely be incredibly dull. The Bambinos are cemented in place and will be there for a long time. Get used to them. Take your kids to see them. Rejoice that the merchants cared enough to spend their own money on an installation, and stifle the harping and nagging and name calling and faux-indignation that will only serve to further curb expression, keeping Ottawa the town that personifies dull.