BY PAUL GESSELL
Commissioning artwork to enliven a busy commercial street is a good thing. Unfortunately, not all commissions by the city produce art that is all that suitable or memorable. Sometimes the street sculptures are too small, covered by snow in winter and, during the rest of the year, are simply lost amid a jumble of newspaper boxes, utility poles, and fire hydrants. And sometimes the art is just downright too baffling to be appreciated by passing pedestrians and motorists.
So, that’s why there was cause to celebrate when Ottawa artist Stuart Kinmond recently won the commission to add some pizzazz to Main Street, which is to be “renewed” and “redesigned” by the city starting in the spring of 2015. That work will take about two years, so don’t expect to see Kinmond’s handiwork until 2017.
The winning installation will be a new outdoor gathering place for people on Main near Hazel. This location is meant to capitalize on the pedestrian flow between Saint Paul University, the Main Farmers’ Market, and the various restaurants and businesses across the street.
Entitled Main2 (Main Square), “the artwork will be comprised of blue and green geometric-shaped benches shaded by three, six-metre-tall towers, each framing colourful, multi-layered glass images of the surrounding landscape of Old Ottawa East: The Rideau Canal, the Rideau River, and the land between,” according to a city communique. “In researching his proposal, Kinmond looked at the community’s ecclesiastical heritage, in particular the prominent presence of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Saint Paul University. The association of stained glass with these religious institutions influenced his choice of materials.”
Before settling on a design, Kinmond rode his bike around the community, noticing some “beautiful places” he had seen before but never associated with Main Street, a thoroughfare he calls an “ugly duckling” badly in need of some pedestrian-friendly revitalization.
“When you look at the map, Old Ottawa East is a linear community with the canal on one side and the river on the other, with Main Street running like a spine down the middle,” Kinmond said in an email interview. “Very close to downtown, the community has a wide variety of housing types — a sweet place to live. However, most of the attractive features are not evident when you drive along Main Street. So the concept originated to make these features visible, like windows onto the street.
“As I became more familiar with the area, Main Street seemed to be like a diamond in the rough — a neglected thoroughfare with a beautiful community around it. The street needs a strong infusion of pedestrian-oriented activities and opportunities. There is not a single public space along the whole length of the street for the pubic to sit and gather. So, the idea of a public square seemed like a desirable addition to the street. Hence the idea of Main2 (pronounced ‘main square’). My design became a mini-public square, including the benches, the paving, and shade structures, as well as the windows with coloured glass. The three windows have images of the canal, the river, and the land between,” he wrote.
This is Kinmond’s second public art commission in Ottawa. Last year, he was awarded a commission for artwork at the O-Train stop at Carleton University.