By Andrea Cranfield –
If you see small, colourful creatures popping up in different businesses in the Hintonburg area, do not be alarmed. They are friendly – for the most part – and will not harm you.
Shawn MacDonell and Brenda Dunn are the creative force behind Hintonbeasts. These little monsters are being placed in stores and restaurants to act as guardians of the businesses they will soon inhabit.
“The idea of the beasts all being [in] a particular place and protecting that place and protecting that atmosphere, there was something really simple and fun about that,” says Brenda adding that the beasts will become “the guardians of the burg.”
Brenda is a visual artist and has a website called Art in Jest and Shawn runs a creative agency called Creativision.
Shawn and Brenda are bubbly, fun, imaginative and goofy and they try to live life to the fullest. They want to encourage others to have more fun and they try to help people do so by sharing their creative visions, of which there are many. Air Your Dirty Laundry, for example, was a collaborative art installation in which Shawn hung underwear and T-shirts in store windows around the neighbourhood and encouraged people to write their dirty little secrets inside. He then collected all of the clothes and photographed them.
“My whole life has just been about getting people to not be so serious,” says Shawn. “Life is so crazy that we stress ourselves out over all kinds of things that don’t really matter.”
Shawn won the art grant for Air Your Dirty Laundry last year through Hintonburg Happening, a festival showcasing music, art, food and local businesses.
When he saw Brenda’s little monsters, he thought it would be a perfect project to enter for another art grant from Hintonburg Happening. They didn’t win but Shawn and Brenda chose to pursue it and see where it led.
“We thought, ‘well let’s go get dollars elsewhere’ so that’s when we applied to Awesome Ottawa,” says Shawn.
According to the website, Awesome Ottawa is “An ever-growing worldwide network of people devoted to forwarding the interest of awesome in the universe.”
Ten trustees each donate $100 every month, totaling $1,000. Every month that money is awarded to different projects. There are Awesome Foundation chapters all around the world.
“People can apply for anything,” says Shawn. “That’s the whole point is that anybody can apply to do any project with literally zero strings attached … they’re really trying to build culture, community and fun things going on in the city.”
“Awesome Ottawa is the definition of awesome,” adds Brenda. “They’re not looking for any specific criteria or structures and they really do just want to find something they think is fun and would make the city better. It’s amazing.”
Brenda makes the Hintonbeasts while Shawn photographs and videotapes them. They even have their own Instagram account: instagram.com/hintonbeasts.
Each monster has a story and a personality. Shawn and Brenda admit there have been several heated debates over what types of things a monster might like or what they would or would not say for example.
“They all have a little personality, they love and they hate and they’re just meant to be silly and funny,” says Brenda. “And it helps to think like a six-year-old when you’re coming up with stuff like that. We both kind of think like six-year-olds.”
So far, Brenda has eight monsters made but plans to create many more. The eight finished ones have already travelled through Hintonburg, with Shawn photographing them as they went.
The two artists say local businesses have been great about allowing the beasts to come inside and carry on with their adventures and shenanigans.
Some businesses have even requested a Hintonbeast of their own.
The idea is that these little critters will act as guardians of the businesses they are placed in to protect it and hopefully brighten someone’s day. Shawn and Brenda also want the monsters to help draw people into stores.
“The people in this neighbourhood are really, really fun so if you approach them and you say, ‘want to do a fun thing for the community?’ The vast majority of the business owners here will be so receptive and so on board,” says Brenda. “It’s an incredibly supportive neighbourhood.”
Brenda has an upcoming workshop at Loam Clay Studio where she will be teaching others how to make the clay figures.
“I love doing stuff like this and I love making them but it’s also about… having people come out and find them and a part of that is also letting people participate,” says Brenda.
Shawn and Brenda have several ideas for the Hintonbeasts including a bingo card so people can go on a scavenger hunt to find the different monsters and take photos with them, as well as a reunion where all of the monsters will meet again after having been separated.
“The idea of having something that encourages people to come out and interact with the community and be a part of an art project… I really want people to feel encouraged to participate in the project and feel a part of the project,” says Shawn.