Utility Art

Ottawa has a public art program.

It is run by bureaucrats, with all the rule making, processes, policies, procedures, and cost escalations that entails. The art along Preston and West Wellington, for example, are on independent sunk-below-the-frost-line concrete pedestals. Art that is actually incorporated into other materials — for example, the Chinese zodiac granite figures set in the Somerset Chinatown sidewalks — don’t count as art, and are maintained by the BIA.

The Preston BIA broke new ground when it installed their heritage murals in the Queensway underpass. The BIA pays the artist to come back periodically for two or three days each spring to “touch up” the artwork. The project has been so successful that Toronto has copied it, and got the media headlines for being so innovative close in to the media navel (a variation on the theme if the Toronto media doesn’t see it, did it happen?)

Recently, Ottawa announced it wanted to decorate all the underpasses under the Queensway. Uh huh. But being a political art program, I have no doubt space will be allocated to all those worthy groups like lesbians, gays, bisexuals and questioning artists; and to others  politically  organized; and someone is sure to make sure that disadvantaged impoverished taggers, graffiti artists, or vandals also get a whack at some underpass.

I suspect city artistic control will be light, lest someone be afraid of being accused of artistic censorship. In which case, will the underpass decor be just another graffiti wall? Will vandals  artists feel justified in painting over the first art, in the name of currency, changing trends, etc? They already feel justified in modifying existing mainstream art, eg the Churchill portrait on Churchill at Richmond.

Why do I have a sinking feeling that disaster is about to ensue?

More cheerfully, in another city, I saw these painted utility poles along a road near a fishing village. Folk art, sincerely done. When it wears off, it is no great loss. No special foundations either. I wonder how many bureaucrats make their living off these painted utility poles?



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2 thoughts on “Utility Art

  1. The village of Winchester, south of Ottawa, also has painted utility poles. Rural scenes of cows, barns and the like to reflect their rural roots and the presence of a large dairy plant in the village. I showed a pix to my councillor and suggested it might be a good way to counteract vandalism/graffiti in some areas of the city. No idea what happened to the suggestion. Maybe this post will renew the discussion.

  2. Jeez Eric, you forgot the two-spirited…

    I liked it when the underpasses were the domain of various graffitists and propagandists with spray cans deployed at 3:00 am, on a couple of occasions accompanied by singers relishing the lovely echoing acoustics. My old dog Bunkie wondered a bit why we lingered to take in the shenanigans.

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