Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Rainbow village up for public art

City sets aside cash, designs competition

The city has set aside $136,000 for an artist to build and install public art on Bank St in the rainbow village area after road and sidewalk reconstruction planned for the strip in 2008 and 2009 is complete.

A similar project is already well underway in the Glebe — where construction will likely rip through the upscale neighbourhood next summer.

The two projects will take a similar tack, according to Karen Nesbitt, the city’s cultural planner heading up the project. Proposals for the Glebe project were accepted from July to Labour Day and could take the form of either a standalone statue for either Lansdowne or Central Park — or else a serial installation down Bank St. The statue competition for the Northerly strip will likely begin in October.

But, with no parks along Bank St between Wellington St and the Queensway, there are fewer options.

“There is no standalone project. It’s going to have to be like a string of pearls on a necklace on Bank St,” says Nesbitt.

It wouldn’t be the first such project in Ottawa, according to gay Ottawa artist Carl Stewart. The description reminds him of the Transitway artwork between downtown and Tunney’s Pasture. Designed by Ottawa artist Mark Marsters, huge metal hands — one giving a thumbs up, one waving, one making an okay signal — are installed between bus stops.

“Within the work, there’s a continuity. As you move down the street, they work individually, but they also work together,” says Stewart.

He’s glad that the city is putting up money for public art projects to go hand-in-hand with the construction.

“Those kinds of opportunities for artists are important, to have your art in the community where people will get to see it,” he says.

Glenn Crawford has been spearheading the gay community’s involvement in Bank St reconstruction since being selected as a member of the Public Advisory Committee earlier this year. Crawford created an electronic survey and a Facebook group, and brought a couple of dozen marchers out to the Pride Parade. Ricky Barnes of Pink Triangle Services has also been drumming up support for the project, which Crawford’s survey results say should be called The Village. Both men sit on the official planning committee overseeing the street’s redevelopment.

For those lobbying the city to recognize a portion of Bank St as a rainbow village, expectations are high that an artist will be chosen who can help solidify the community’s identity.

“Hopefully, there will be some kind of work that reflects our identity or our history,” says Crawford. He says he expects that the winning proposal will be “non representative” or abstract.

One of the challenges of the project will be the length of the road that sculpture will be built on, says Crawford. Nesbitt doesn’t anticipate that the sculptures will go near the North end of Bank St — by Parliament — because there’s already a lot going on down that way. She pointed out an area bound approximately by Somerset and the Queensway as the most likely site.

“We have a number of distinct neighbourhoods on Bank St,” says Crawford. “It will be an interesting challenge for an artist to match that.”

That’s because part of the project could end up in the rainbow village area, roughly bounded by Nepean and James Sts, and part of the project could end up South of it, between Gladstone and the Queensway. The challenges posed by the distinctness of Bank St’s neighbourhoods don’t have to be insurmountable, says Crawford, as long as the work chosen is respectful of the area’s character or the work tackles a general, related theme like love or diversity.

Crawford and other interested parties will have the chance to comment on the top proposals (as chosen by a panel of artists) at a public consultation — but that’s a few months away.

In the meantime, Crawford will be encouraging gay artists he knows to submit proposals. That process is set to begin mid-October.