This weekend’s Concrete Canvas event will bring new art out onto the streets of Hamilton. The event, running July 12-14, promises over twenty separate locations stretching across the lower city with contributions by artists, both locally and abroad.
According to their website, Concrete Canvas is a multi-day visual arts festival where local and international acclaimed artists alike gather in Hamilton over one weekend to paint murals live across the city in an effort to elevate the visual landscape of the city while simultaneously inspiring a new generation of artists. It promises that sponsored walls will act as a blank canvas to give art appreciators an interactive visual experience like nothing Hamilton has seen before. The initiative is in full collaboration and support with the City of Hamilton but doesn’t go into detail as to what that entails, exactly.
Assuming these murals are permanent fixtures, this is an incredible opportunity for the City of Hamilton. While it will be incredible to watch these artists create their work live, the ability to experience their work year-round and take a self-guided tour has the potential to contribute to long-lasting infrastructure of a healthy city.
In order for an event like Concrete Canvas to have lasting success, the City of Hamilton also needs to be supportive of year-round public art. Policies for selecting, funding and maintaining public artwork and legal graffiti walls can make the process easier for events like Concrete Canvas and individual artists to bring ideas to Hamilton, growing the capacity of the community and sharing its stories through public art. The participation and contribution of the artists also need to be considered in this process- how they are hired, paid and their specific role in a design team are not only critical to the overall design, but also send a message from the city about the value it places on art and artists. The larger community cannot be left out either; as the ones who will live with, experience and interact with the art daily, their participation in the process is critical to the success of any piece of art.
The benefits of public art are immense. Around the world, street art is frequently utilized to transform blank walls and dull spaces into representations of local identity. Individual artists and graffiti artists have long used their talent to display works of art with historical, political and social undertones. Community murals with participation from a larger group (such as the Beasley Community Mural) can explore characteristics of a neighbourhood that might otherwise remain unseen.
In either case, public art contributes to vibrant neighbourhoods that not only make spaces more beautiful, but also make them more attractive to visit, live in and take care of. Concrete and asphalt can lead to negative mental health effects, particularly in vulnerable populations; however, murals painted over these spaces can have the opposite effect, with colour and vibrancy contributing to therapeutic benefits. Public art also creates a tangible sense of place, resulting in increased foot traffic and often, a positive contribution on the economy of a neighbourhood. While this may raise concerns around gentrification, a 2017 PolicyLink study showed that by integrating community stakeholder input and participation into the public art process, neighbourhood perceptions shifted, and equitable development could be achieved instead.
Murals can also be used as a tool to increase public safety. By creating the feeling that a space is cared for, crimes of opportunity become less likely. As public art, murals generally deter other vandalism from taking place in the surrounding area. Not only does this contribute to the further beautification of a space and a feeling of safety and community, but it also provides long-term cost savings (provided the public art is well-maintained), as the City and neighbourhood associations do not have to pay to repair vandalism that may have otherwise occurred. The GALA alleyway mural in the Gibson-Landsdale area utilized a mural, birdhouses/landscaping and animation to repurpose an alleyway that had previously been used for illegal dumping and reconnect the urban landscape to nature.
The support of events, like Concrete Canvas represent an incredible opportunity for the City of Hamilton to transform blank walls into creative assets that have the power to positively impact neighbourhoods across the city. However, in order to reap these benefits long-term, there needs to be a plan for sustainability and maintenance in place, as well as engagement of artists and communities. Otherwise, while these events will become a wonderful yearly occurrence, they will also be a missed opportunity.