What if Kingston…

public art installation, oversized art, outdoor sculpture, Kingston, OntarioIf you take a stroll around the campus at Queen’s University, you’ll be treated to a high concentration of outdoor art installations including Iron Man, Sakkarah, Thataway Again, Bent Yellow, A Minute of My Time, Untitled, and many more.  However, when you venture outside of the Queen’s bubble, you’ll notice far fewer oversized works.  Sure there’s Time, Pollution, the Brock Street Art Project, and whatever those things are called out at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, but otherwise the pickings are slim in the Limestone City.  While umpteen historic sites help create Kingston’s quaint ambiance, the outdoor creative works department is equally as important, but again it is in short supply.  With that in mind, what if Kingston had more publicly displayed pieces of oversized abstract art?

Regular readers may recall a related post from last summer, where we asked what if Kingston was home to a large roadside attraction such as a gigantic bust of Don Cherry.  Rest assured that this latest artistic proposition is considerably less cheesy, and not necessarily wearing a loud plaid blazer.  However, similar to our bid to build Grapes’ inflated mug, large scale artistic sculptures are tourist destinations, and otherwise enhance the cultural capital of the city.  While searching for some solid justification to convince both myself and you that more community art projects are needed in Kingston, I came across the following:

What exactly do arts and cultural resources have to offer individuals and communities? These resources can foster understanding, build employment and life skills, rekindle pride and belief in a community. Arts and culture address the “basics” such as self-esteem and the power to influence one’s surroundings. They can be used to alter the image of a physical area, and provide a common meeting ground. These programs stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and build job skills. And because the arts define our society and its diversity, they are central in binding and mending the social fabric of our communities.

It is worth noting that the main reason the recently completed Brock Street Art Project exists is because the project secured funding through the United Way and Kincore.  Without this financial backing, I don’t think too many tax payers would have jumped on board to throw money at some abstract sculptures for the downtown, especially in light of the laundry list of costly projects and repairs the City has planned, or has otherwise been putting off for far too long.  That’s all to say the viability of community art projects comes down to dollars and cents.  While the quote above mentions the possible economic benefits of the arts in general, I am not trying to say that a new oversized abstract geometric form would draw a significant number tourists to Kingston, or save our beleaguered downtown.

So just why do we need more art in public places?  Whether we’re talking about permanent or temporary sculptures, light displays, murals, fountains or integrated architectural and landscape works, such elements help create a unique and liveable city.  If you take away these historic, social and aesthetically pleasing bits, Kingston becomes just as bland and indiscernible as any other burgh.  It’s time for more of our public spaces to reflect the fact that Kingston is home to the first Arts Council in Canada with an annual juried exhibition, the nation’s first artist-run centre (Modern Fuel), as well as a thriving art scene complete with galleries, studios and the list goes on.

After taking a step back and evaluating how the city could enable the development of new outdoor creative works, it’s apparent that we need a to establish a Public Art Master Plan that clearly outlines the objectives, possible locations, themes for proposed works, and stakeholders.  Armed with a proper plan and support from our civic leaders, Kingston would be better positioned to attract funding and ultimately ensure that our public spaces are representative of this city’s creative minds.

Special thanks to Axoplasm for today’s photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

9 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • I don't think the perpetually in need of painting pollution is good example of what we'd want more of. It would be better if it had been left as the coke and 7up cans when it was graffiti-ed years ago

    The aluminum thing from the 76 olympics is "tetra"

    • Thanks for clarifying the name of the work out at Portsmouth. As for Pollution, it's definitely not one of my favorites but I still think it works with the surroundings.

  • I think 'Pollution' ruins that space. Nothing like a urine-infused piece of crap 'art' to let your kids run around in…
    I certainly wish I could get paid a lot of money for rolling a couple big sections of Anchor pre-cast pipe, dumping some extra bags of readimix inside and giving it a hideous paint-job. Sorry, but Pollution is hideous and certainly not what I would consider 'art'. Art should at least LOOK like it took a bit of skill and imagination to produce, and moreso, be inviting to look at and explore.

    • Sorry, that sounded awfully over-negative. But I guess my gist is clear: Don't like it.
      Where's that photo of the Octopus from?

      • I don't think you need to apologize. If everyone liked the same thing, this would be a pretty boring place.

        The octopus is from an aquarium in China, or at least that's what Flickr tells me. It was one of the better, oversized pieces I could find. I originally intended to showoff an abstract sculpture, but thought that this would be more attractive to a wider audience.

    • I agree, Pollution has got to go. it's an embarrassment for us when tourists see it. They could easily put some new art work there that actually reflects kingston's history and culture.

  • Have you heard about the upcoming public meetings regarding the city's cultural plan? There are public hearings before the plan is made official. It incorporates a public art policy… For more info, see:

    Public Workshop 1: Wednesday May 26 – Portsmouth Olympic Harbour * 6 – 8:30p.m.
    Public Workshop 2: Thursday May 27 – Portsmouth Olympic Harbour * 9 – 11:30a.m.

    • Really wish that I'd stumbled across this when I was writing this piece, but the fact remains an art or culture policy is the key to realizing more public art initiatives in the future. It will be interesting to see how much of a focus public art receives when the cultural plan is finally approved. After a quick read through the Stage 1 update from January, the plan is clearly in it's infancy and does not offer many specifics or even mentions of public art. There is however a small bit concerning a possible cluster of contemporary art if/when North Block is developed.

  • Tetra is by highly respected and widely recognized artist Ted Bieler, son of Andre Bieler – K-Town is very lucky to have Tetra, and also to have the Bielers as part of its "art history"

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