The next time you are on Locke Street South, look down. Snippets of Simon Frank's peripatetic pavement poem will be revealed as you step from one sidewalk square to the next. Prompted by these lines, your commute becomes a time of reflection. The sidewalk speaks: “to walk the streets / of the city / is to love it.” Frank reminds walkers that the city is more than infrastructure – it is a human endeavour.
Public spaces (like sidewalks, roads, parks, and civic squares) host a bustle of human activity. We all have ownership of these spaces where we live our daily lives. But it seems that we spend very little time truly enjoying them. In the morning, we travel from our homes (private spaces) through public spaces to the workplace (again private). Come 5pm, we spend as little time as possible in public spaces in order to rush back home. Why is this? Do we forget that public spaces belong to us? Is it because public spaces are perceived as uninviting, or uninteresting, or unsafe?
One of the ways to encourage citizens to fall back in love with their public spaces is through public art. Examples of many types of public art can be found throughout Hamilton.
a) written word: I have mentioned Simon Frank's “Concrete Poetry” on Locke Street South.
b) visual art: King William Street hosts the King William Art Walk of visual art and interactive sculpture.
c) theatre: Driftwood Theatre's outdoor performance of The Tempest took place at the Dundas Driving Park a few weeks ago.
d) dance: Dusk Dances had a great run at Bayfront Park last weekend.
e) music: On Sunday August 10 at 8pm, catch the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra's brass ensemble playing at Gage Park followed by a film screening under the stars.
f) landscape art: Until the end of August, visit the gardens outside the McMaster Museum of Art to see (and smell and touch!) the blooms that make up another Simon Frank installation: a ‘planted painting’ inspired by a watercolour piece by Paul Klee.
You will notice that some of these local examples of public art are permanent installations while others are temporary, experienced for a brief period by those who happen to be in attendance. But all of these examples capture the best aspects of public art since they are:
i) free and accessible to all;
ii) hosted in a public space, inviting citizens to reclaim ownership of these spaces as more than thoroughfares from one private space to another;
iii) and acting to enhance the local environment, making Hamilton a more pleasant, safe, and exciting place to live.
We can also look to other cities for inspiration. The City of Toronto has a Percent for Public Art program that requires every private developer to allocate one percent of his or her construction costs to public art. Every year, Rochester hosts the WALL\THERAPY event when owners of private buildings donate their walls as canvases to local graffiti artists, commissioned to create pieces of public art that represent the identities of their neighbourhoods. Infecting the City is an independent festival in Cape Town that invites artists from all disciplines to respond to a particular social issue by creating public art, witnessed across the city by members of the public. These three examples show that public, private, and grassroots initiatives can work to achieve the same goal: transforming public spaces through art.
Be sure to check out local examples of public art happening this weekend: Art Crawl on James Street North this evening and the HPO Brass at Gage Park on Sunday. Keep your eyes peeled as you go about your business. Take the time to notice how fellow citizens are reclaiming Hamilton's public spaces – the guitar player outside Jackson Square, local guerilla knitters who wrap trees with scarves, and community gardeners who beautify traffic medians with flowers.
Image sources: 1 (author's own), 2, 3, 4, 5 (author's own).