Art Sparks in the Park

Controversy has erupted recently over the overpainting of images made as part of the On the Wall festival last August. A few other works had been altered in various ways without much comment, but then David Dossett’s paintings of snow angels and a street scene were layered over with a large red S. He is angry about this and has taken the story to the CBC and to the Whig. The story hooked in with the Wellington Street Extension debate today when the Whig published a letter from George Dillon asserting that because of the “vandalism,”

The current council needs to place high-intensity lighting along the top of the cliff so that the retaining walls can be clearly seen throughout the evening and night. They should have already placed lighting along the waterfront pathway. Surveillance cameras also should be added to view the area. But most of all, this should be an awakening to city council and others who question the need of the Wellington Street extension — that a two-lane street should have been built close to the retaining wall from at least Bay Street through to Cataraqui Street. The city had the opportunity to build such a street shortly after it took possession of the property in the late 1960s. The fact that the road would have been in use might have helped prevent vandalism in the vicinity.

My mandate here is to talk about the WSE, but I think I have to back up a bit first. Let me start by fully acknowledging that Dossett’s work has made an important contribution to the festival and the landscape. But then let me also say that it is/was by its nature temporary art. The whole idea of the festival was to enliven a crumbling wall with street art — with the stated expectation that at next year’s festival at least, the art would be painted over. We just can’t expect street art to be permanent — partly because of the wind and the rain, but partly because of its status as a kind of surprise and a statement demanding response. So somebody or somebodies jumped the gun, and without permission. Is this a crisis? I would say no. Unauthorized street art may not to everybody’s taste, but it is a major aesthetic and political phenomenon of our times, reflecting the dynamism and dialogue of urban spaces. Its presence suggests that (wow!) Kingston really is a city, and has moved into the twenty first century.

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photos courtesy David Dossett

Dossett feels that his work has been vandalized, and Dillon takes it further, saying the overpainting is as bad as burning down buildings. Because of the social disorder in the park, he says that we need Berlin-wall style of surveillance, and better yet, a lot of cars to keep people from painting. Dillon seeks the elimination of peace, quiet, and privacy in the park. And people too: he doesn’t want them, unless they’re in cars. Especially if they dare to leave any traces of their existence. Ergo, he wants the road as a mode of social control.

I suppose Dillon is quite right that the WSE might serve that function. I hope others will agree that it is yet another reason to resist the road.

Thursday night in Toronto, I walked alongside the train tracks in the Junction, by a long wooden construction hoarding covered with really beautiful street art — haunting faces, flamboyant stylized lettering, psychedelic twists and turns. It was dark and the snow was falling. Some of the first layer of art had been tagged or had other art superimposed on top of it. But to me, all that was a sign of life. It was a sign that people wanted to make their presence known in public. Nobody asked me to pay anything to see this art. Nobody else was there. But as I walked, I felt that delicious combination of solitude and sociability that cities are all about. Doug Fluhrer Park has a little bit of that too, and we’re lucky.

— Laura Murray

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2 thoughts on “Art Sparks in the Park

  1. Laura,

    I wonder if your insensitivity to the artists would be different if you yourself had sacrificed time and money to create a mural on the wall. For my part, having never completed a mural before, I don’t identify as an artist, our mural took the full week to complete with early mornings and late nights. It also cost me personally over $400 in supplies. Part of that cost can be attributed to not knowing what the right things were to use, but mostly the cost is related to the amount of paint, and number of colours we chose for our mural. We did get a $150 stipend at the end of the event, however, all of that went to the professional artist who helped us create a mural we could be proud of. As an aside, it should be noted that I found it quite offensive when I discovered that the “judges” (was there actually judging?) were paid, that other money was spent on a stage, etc, but the artists who took time off work and used their own money for paints etc, were only given funding as an after thought.

    All of that aside, I have some history for you…..

    1. When I was approached to produce a mural on the wall, I was told the goal was to improve the park. To make the wall nicer so that more people would come to the park and improve it’s viability. Since I walk through the park almost daily and cringe at the state of it, I agreed to figure out how to paint a mural, how to include children from a summer camp in it’s execution, and how to create something Kingstonians might enjoy. I’ve seen the success Philadelphia has had with their mural arts programs, I was hopeful we could start the process in developing a tiny bit of that success in Kingston. And, I was also told by the organizers that there would be an effort on the part of the organizers to cover the murals with a graffiti preventing spray so that the murals would last until next year’s possible event.

    2. Just before the festival I watched one of the organizers become frazzled because someone had written ‘Punk is not Dead’ on the community mural as well there was a barely visible tag on another wall. I was quite surprised that she would ask for those pieces to be removed, in fact, I was actually a bit offended because the Punk comment was one person’s contribution to the festival, they had been encouraged to contribute.

    3. I have emails that go back to August 28th, just after our mural was first tagged. The discussion started back then, David has just done a better job of making his frustrations known once his mural was vandalized. Some of us were hopeful that when the first graffiti showed up (The mural that stated ‘The is an art gallery’ was adjusted with a ‘not’), that an attempt would be made to prevent further tagging by fixing the affected mural. Those of us who believe in the ‘Broken Window Theory’ know that fixing problems as soon as they happen is the best way to prevent future problems. At the time, some of the organizers were upset that ‘their’ murals had been damaged. (not that they had actually painted them) The organizers showed more worry and concern about their own words being written over than they did about other people’s murals. In fact one of the organizers expressed support about the political statement that hit our mural. I was pretty upset about the lack of empathy then, and I’m even more concerned about it now.

    In my opinion, the On the Wall festival was a nice concept which was not very well thought through or executed. I feel that some of us were deceived in terms of the purpose of the event, and the support that was supposed to be there to encourage people to enjoy the park year round. This makes me very concerned about supporting any other initiatives of the organizers.

    The park now is back to the trashy state it was in before the festival, which makes me wonder why we bothered in the first place. It also makes me wonder why we’re trying to preserve the park at all. Just to provide a place for vandals? Why would we do that? I believe those trying to preserve the park are confused about the purpose of preserving it. I believe the Doornekamps have a better vision for that area along the waterfront, and I’m inclined to support that vision, because I’ve seen the good work they’ve done in the past, I can put faith in their visions. I can’t however put faith in a group of well meaning people who mislead supporters and seem to have lost sight of what they were trying to accomplish.

    Chrystal

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Chrystal — I can’t get into all the issues you raise here, but I do agree that greater discussion/clarity appears to be needed before this year’s event… the term “mural art” probably has very different norms and expectations than “street art” and perhaps that needs to be sorted out. As I see it from the outside, this was a new experiment for Kingston and it’s not surprising it had its rough spots. As for the park being “trashy,” I’m sure there will be even more graffiti if a road is put through 🙂 — this event reveals differences of opinion about how we inhabit public space that will not go away, so seems to me we have to figure out how to live with it, even build on it. Myself I’m a musician, not a painter, so am comfortable with the ephemeral: a piece of art happens, and while it may not last, it can still have a great impact. But maybe we’ll have more chance to discuss this some time… at the next WSX meeting January 12? Oops, we sent out an email about that but haven’t announced it on the blog. Will do that. best, L.

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