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Artist Marney McDiarmid brightens outlook with public art installations

Window at Rideaucrest. Image provided by Marney McDiarmid.

Kingston residents may have seen beautiful large-scale chalk drawings on windows in the area. Local artist Marney McDiarmid has been creating public art installations of tropical flora and fauna related to her research of endemic plants in Hawaii, which was cut short by the pandemic.

Her Hawaiian trip, funded by an Ontario Arts Council grant, was part of her long-term work looking at ecology and changing ecosystems. “The purpose of my Ontario Arts Grant was to learn more about Hawaii’s endemic plants and use the experience as inspiration for my artwork,” McDiarmid shared with Kingstonist. “Although I am still continuing on with the ceramic element of the proposal, doing large scale drawings of these plants as a public art project seemed like a good way to respond to the pandemic.”

“The plants I am drawing are precious elements of the earth’s biodiversity and yet have not been well protected. Many of them are on the endangered list,” she continuted. “I started to see the plants as a metaphor for the residents of long-term care facilities – valuable members of our society that should be well cared for and celebrated.”

According to a media release, McDiarmid is best known for depicting vivid and extravagant plant life on her ceramic art. But as the weeks of shut-down dragged on she began to use chalk markers to decorate, first, the windows in her own home, and then, at their request, those of neighbours. Her own grandmother is in a long-term care facility in British Columbia, separated from her husband of 75 years, which has given McDiarmid a heightened awareness of the monotony that accompanies lockdown for many people. 

“I wanted to bring beauty to people whose own opportunity to experience the natural world has been so sharply curtailed,” she said. “I wanted them to have the opportunity to see an artist working, but also to leave them with the drawings to enjoy.”

Recently, McDiarmid and her collaborator Grace McDonald used their artistry to create a garden scene on the windows of the Alzheimer’s floor at Rideaucrest.

Installing the drawings was a very rewarding experience, McDiarmid shared. “My collaborator Grace and I were able to communicate with residents who came to the windows to watch. We were able to lip read and also write backwards on the windows as a way of chatting. One of the women was particularly engaged and at one point she said that she felt like we were ‘drawing her into a garden.’”

McDiarmid hopes to connect with other facilities that might wish to host one of her installations.  “It’s brought light and whimsy to the days of our residents in a way we all need right now,” said Laura Beavers, the Supervisor of Resident Programs and Services of Rideaucrest. 

By creating art on the outside of windows, there is no health risk to residents, and using chalk means the environmental impact is negligible, McDiarmid said. “The hope is that the drawings bring beauty to residents in the facilities, but also that they are enjoyed by people passing on the outside, as well.”

“I’m also hoping that other people will read about this and start thinking of ways that they can enliven the areas outside of these facilities. I like imagining, for example, kids building snow people on the lawns outside of LTCs in the winter or a dancer doing a performance outside of a window. Anything that helps bring some joy and connection to the residents and the staff makes a difference.”

McDiarmid is doing these installations free of charge, and she is hopeful that, as others learn of this project, there will be interest in having drawings installed on windows of other long-term care homes or local businesses. Although it wasn’t planned, she said she sees this as a worthwhile outcome of her Ontario Arts Council grant.

“Grace and I started doing the drawings back in the spring. We started a Flora & Fauna project that featured mainly local plants and animals. We did ‘Foxes of Kingston’ on the windows of NorthSide when the restaurant was closed and then installed drawings reflecting the neighbourhood of Skeleton Park as part of the Next Door art exhibition. The drawings at Rideaucrest were next and we are hoping to do more on other LTCs.”

Interested in having McDiarmid create art for your location? Contact her at [email protected]

A gallery of their works:

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