Painting the town

By Anita Grace –

The pavement near Elmdale Public School is about to get a lot more colourful. On Saturday, June 7, Clarendon Avenue from Java Street to Iona Street will become a giant painted mural.

This creative project is being organized by the Wellington Village Community Association (WVCA) and Elmdale Public School, with support and funding from the city’s Neighbourhood Connection Office.

“It’s about creating a sense of place,” says Katie Paris. The project leader and former WVCA president has spent years pursuing what she sees as an opportunity to bring community members together to reclaim their streets. In part, this means calming rush-hour traffic.

Former WVCA president Katie Paris and artist Jennifer Nicol are working together to make the Clarendon Avenue a little brighter. Photo by Anita Grace.
Former WVCA president Katie Paris and artist Jennifer Nicol are working together to make the Clarendon Avenue a little brighter. Photo by Anita Grace.
The final design for Clarendon Avenue was created by local artist Jennifer Nicol with input from neighbours and students from Elmdale P.S.
The final design for Clarendon Avenue was created by local artist Jennifer Nicol with input from neighbours and students from Elmdale P.S.

Clarendon Avenue is usually a quiet, neighbourhood street where children can safely play, but when traffic backs up on Island Park Drive, impatient commuters start speeding through.

“At certain times of the day, it feels like hundreds of cars are coming through,” says Paris.

By painting a mural on the street surface, the community hopes to remind drivers to slow down. But Paris adds that it’s also about involving kids in the process of beautifying the community on their own terms. “That’s empowering,” she says.

The Community Association approached local artist Jennifer Nicol to design the mural. She loved the idea and began seeking input from neighbours and Elmdale students on the image design. “I wanted it to be collaborative,” she explains.

After gathering input, Nicol created three compositions. They were posted at Elmdale School and each class viewed and voted on them.

“What I love about the composition chosen by the children is that it represents the community,” Nicol says. In the centre of the picture is the Earth. Surrounding it are four large trees, one for each season. In between these trees are active community members. “It is environmentally friendly,” Nicol explains. “People are walking, biking, running and enjoying the outdoors.”

At 6:00 a.m. on June 7, Nicol will begin drawing the chalk outline on Clarendon.  At 9:00 a.m. community members will begin painting. The street will be closed to traffic throughout the day.

Nicol, who teaches watercolour workshops, says painters of all ages and abilities are welcome; little ones will be paired with adults or older teens. Paint and brushes will be provided.

Paris says there were a few hoops the WVCA had to jump through before paint even touched the pavement. The City had to approve the design, which couldn’t be too distracting for drivers or have any offensive content. The surrounding community also had to be on board, with full approval from everyone directly adjacent to the art and two thirds support from all neighbours within a block. The WVCA also had to commit to maintaining the mural for at least a year.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Paris says.

Covering street surfaces with large paintings has become known as “intersection repair.” The concept began in Portland, Oregon. Areas with street art report increased community engagement, lower crime rates, and decreased motor traffic. Cities across North America have picked up on the trend.

The Clarendon street painting project is the first of its kind in Ottawa, although the City has approved three other “Art on the Street” projects in Kanata North, Woodpark, and Lowertown. These paintings will take place in June, July, and September respectively.

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