Chinatown Art Installation

The City sets aside a certain small percentage of its major capital projects budget (such as road reconstruction) for art installations. West Siders know the ones: Preston Street granite postcards from the piazzas, West Wellie’s marble veggies, the red chairs in the Glebe.

The just-getting-completed reconstruction of Somerset between the OTrain tracks and Booth had a very small art budget. One that had to cope with three distinct areas: Chinatown, the bit of Little Italy around Preston, and the OTrain viaduct-bridge. With public consultation, the decision was made to have two installations: one on the Chinatown hill, and one on the viaduct hill.

The chosen installation was glass chandeliers mounted on the ped light fixtures. Today, installation crews were busy mounting the pieces on the viaduct:

And a bit further along, they have been mounted on the Chinatown lampposts:

Now that they are installed, I must confess to being underwhelmed.

This is not to blame the artist, or the jury. The whole process is bureaucratic, with everyone from snowplow crews to the BIA’s to merchants to traffic signals people getting involved. The right of way is constrained. No use can be made of the big open space over the actual streets themselves (it might distract the motorists from their speedy way…) or an island in an intersection or roundabout.

There was no place to install a single big item, since the centre block was already occupied by the Postcards sculptures and Vietnamese boat people monument. Nothing could hang off the sides of the viaduct, or use the handrails. Ottawa Hydro offered cooperation in installing lit art, but all such proposals were rejected by the jury.

You can see the alternatives at this earlier post:

Sunlight, and at night lamplight, is supposed to shine through the chosen installations to cast interesting light patterns on the sidewalk pavers.

The ped lights on the viaduct over the OTrain should have a dozen giant planters installed  this fall, between the lampposts, each with two locust trees planted in it. This will further reduce the visibility of the art.

Yet to come: 48 granite sidewalk inserts with the Chinese zodiac characters carved into them. This is not part of the art process, it is part of the sidewalk pavers design.

Please feel free to use the comments field below. And, just for info, the Bronson reconstruction is likely to use one or two larger pieces as “gateways” rather than a lot of smaller pieces along the street.

18 thoughts on “Chinatown Art Installation

  1. Yeah… underwhelmed sums it up. I had forgotten what they were to look like so when you opened with the description of “glass chandeliers” I formed images of hanging, lantern style glass lights… it felt nice.. and then I saw the tangled mystery-items that are being mounted. Sigh.

  2. Sigh indeed. Product of the process I would say: minimize the chance of getting something totally crazy, but also the chance of getting something iconic or particularly interesting.

  3. I would give up all the public art in the city in exchange for burying the hydro lines. The well-designed streetlights tacked onto the wooden poles look particularly bad.

  4. Why do we have sex toys mounted to light posts? Not that I object, but did anyone actually stop to think about what those look like? I give them six months before half are broken.

    1. Somebody had to say it. I find it interesting if nobody on the selection panel thought that, not even for a second.

      1. FYI:

        a) They’re not illuminated
        b) look at the photos from Eric’s previous blog post (which he linked) of the scale models of these presented to the panel. They looked like chilis.

        Luckily, as Eric points out, they’re so small and will be obscured by trees that most people probably won’t even see them.

  5. Don’t know why so many objections to the unilluminated dildos.
    If you look at Eric’s pictures of the light standards it should be obvious to everyone that this is a red light district. The art is therefore highly appropriate to the location.

  6. Even my four-year-old son insisted that there was something wrong with them: “They are broken”. So much for whimsy.

  7. For future reference, can someone tell me why it’s not possible to:
    1. Commission a single work from an artist with a track record for public art (or some other reasonable criteria).
    2. Get them involved at the planning stage.
    3. Live with the result (none of this ‘committee gets to pick one of 5 options’ business).

    1. It seems part of the process is to “encourage” as many artists as possible, and maybe to “spread the wealth”. So the process goes like this: artists submit their track record and their idea. (Your idea, no matter how meritorious, is not eligible; the program is reserved for artists not art) A chunk of the funds is then paid to several artists to “develop” their idea to a more refined point, using mockups, drawings, scale examples, etc. See the linked prior post from last fall to see these mockups. Then the selected artist (selected by the city jury, which is influenced by the public opinion/rating gathered at the open house, and very much influenced by the BIA) is chosen to complete the work. A portion of funds is set aside for future maintenance. And a portion is siphoned off to support the administering bureaucracy.
      Note that I am not part of any jury, just a public oberserver and commenter, although as a member of the community assoc. we are collectively consulted about what sort of art might be appropriate for the area, BEFORE the RFP goes out. I may not have all the process details right, I am recalling from memory what went on…
      Note also that the Bronson project is being administered somewhat differently. Due to the huge public stink about the city’s mishandling of the reconstructon plans, the city started throwing all sorts of things towards the community groups to “keep us busy” (ie, distracted from the real issues which is repeating the 1959 road-widening mistake). One of these distractions was to hire an art adivsor, who lived in the neighborhood, to consult with the community as to how the street design might be modified (as if !!) to allow for public art. The Bronson art is likely to be two large-ish pieces, one at Gladstone, one in the Laurier-Primrose zone. Then more art will be selected for the other phases, eg Laurier-Queen, Catherine-south, etc.

      1. What do you think of the requirement that the portion of the funds for a particular infrastructure project need to be spent at THAT project? I, of course, see the why that is: to avoid all sorts of politics of ‘this neighborhood gets more art funds’, ‘who gets to decide’ etc. etc. However, diverting those monies into an “Art Fund” to pay for, perhaps, larger scale projects all over town, as the site and artist warrant, to my mind would be a more effective use of that money. As you said yourself: this Somerset portion didn’t really lend itself to an art installation — but that money needed to be spent!

      2. As for Bronson, my mental health is best served by saying (and thinking) as little as possible about it (at this point).

  8. I am generally in favour of spending the art money locally. Otherwise, it follows the same old path: the affluent or well-organized neighborhoods will get it all; lower income or ugly neighborhoods will (continue) to get nothing or get abused. How well would it sell to say: “low income somerset west, we’ll rehash your facility (eg park, street) with minimal consultation and the over there, the better organized will get a paid organizer to ensure the nicest stuff lands over there” — oh wait, that’s pretty much what happens now. Except for Art. That is mandated to be put locally. AND, I do not subscribe to the notion that the low income dont deserve art, or nice city stuff, I have been hearing that for the last 30 years in this neighborhood (mostly, not coincidentally, from the more left-wing activists who “know better” what is wanted, deserved, or will be delivered.), Let;s not strike a comission to rehash the art mandate, let’s try to ensure we get better art.

  9. I’ve never been too enamoured of these public art installations. My first memory of such installations was the hand-and-fingers installations in the West Transitway trench, which looked silly then and look aged now. I’m sure there is the occasional exception, but a lot of ‘infrastructure art’ seems to be this way: it tries to make some kind of statement that most people don’t really give a damn about.

    Personally I’d far prefer it if some artistic thought went into the the infrastructure that is being installed anyway. More decorative poles, light standards, benches, bus shelters, bike racks, etc. They could even put artistic flourishes on the street name sign holders (i.e. kind of like they used to…); I’m not talking about each neighbourhood having its own stylized street signs but just their holders for the standard street name signs. And god forbid someone do something about those hideous electrical boxes that uglify every intersection with a traffic light.

    Need some railings for a fence somewhere? Well why not decorate them with various designs rather than slapping together the cheapest functional design around? Got a blank wall? How about painting it (like in Westboro on Churchil of Churchill) or carving something into it?

    Or how about some fountains somewhere? Outside the NCC’s pathways – yes, the dreaded NCC – they are basically non-existent. Water fountains always offer plenty of potential for artistic expression.

    Anyway, that’s just my preference: I’d prefer to see the day-to-day street appurtenances of modern urban life beautified rather than putting up largely unappreciated pieces of ‘art’.

  10. It is a real shame they will not be lit… when I went by them the first time, I thought they might look great when they are connected….

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