Bronson Avenue is known for its heavy traffic, commercial buildings and functionality. Beauty is not often a word used to describe it. Tim Desclouds, a retired Canterbury High School teacher turned full-time artist, is working to change this perception by beautifying Ottawa streets with his artwork.
Desclouds is the artist behind the recently installed artistic gateway to Centretown’s McNabb Park. The gateway is just one aspect of the redevelopment plan for the park that was announced in 2013.
The gateway, installed in October, is entitled Sit for a While, In the Garden, and Watch the Parade, which desClouds explains emulates the sense of community he sees. A three-dimensional maple tree is the central image of the gateway with its branches forming an archway into McNabb Park.
“The whole sense of a community park is having a place to relax and the parade is just the parade of life,” he says. “You know a lot of people are alone in the city, you go to the park and see kids playing, you see people walking around and you get more of a communal feel and sense of being a part of something.”
The City of Ottawa’s Public Art Program commissioned Desclouds for the piece. A spokesperson for the city said that the program was established in 1985 and is devoted to increasing awareness and appreciation of the visual arts in Ottawa by commissioning locally-produced artworks.
One per cent of funds for new development projects are earmarked for public art under the program. Bronson Avenue has undergone significant redevelopment in recent years, as have other Centretown streets.
“If you look up Bank, Preston and Bronson they look pretty similar, I think the real character of the street is the artwork,” says Desclouds.
Public art is nothing new Desclouds explains. “Think of all the monumental sculptures and actually all the sculptures during the Renaissance were supported by patrons and the church, were in a sense public art,” he says.
Ola Wlusek, curator of contemporary art at the Ottawa Art Gallery, says the exciting part about public art is that it’s accessible to everyone and extends beyond the gallery walls.
Inserting art into people’s everyday lives doesn’t always warrant a warm welcome. The installation of Bambini, at the corner of Gladstone Avenue and Preston Street, had community members raising eyebrows.
“For the city, public art serves as a gathering place but also as a landmark in a way,” she says. “Just think of the spider outside the National Gallery, It became an iconic piece within itself because it is so recognizable.”
However, due to the one-per-cent budget provision many public art pieces in Ottawa are of a smaller scale.
“The smaller pieces can be the little jewels along the street that people experience, and give a real positive character to the street. I don’t think all pieces have to be monumental,” says Desclouds.
Desclouds explains it would be nice to have larger works of art on Ottawa streets but that means budgets would need to be larger.
“You can’t give an architect a million dollars and expect them to build a monumental architectural piece,” he says, noting that truly landmark public buildings cost more.
Nevertheless, the City of Ottawa commissioned the artistic gateway at McNabb Park to become a focal point for Bronson Avenue.
Wlusek says this is what public art is often intended to do.
“It serves as a gathering place, as it is supposed to be enjoyed and allow us as visitors to slow down and have a look,” she says. “For neighbourhoods, what better landmark than an original piece of artwork.”