by Beth Threlfall
What makes a community? Not physically or philosophically, but artistically and elementally? That was the question in my head (and heart) when I was approached in spring 2020 about creating a new mural for the Oaklands neighbourhood. For me, community is built on people, art and need—all of which came together in my Haultain Corners mural project last summer.
Now, with spring fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about new ideas for your our neighbourhoods: the City of Victoria recently put out calls for artistic projects and various community groups are starting online discussions about what needs fixing up, and where. Yet planning a community mural—especially in the COVID era—is about so much more than just putting paint on a wall.
Inspiration in location
When I was first approached by U Retreat owners Melanie Nelson and Malcom Clark about designing a mural for the corner of Haultain and Belmont, I was excited by the prospect of working on such a scale: more than eight metres long and two-and-a-half metres high, the wall offered a ready canvas for “something magical,” as they simply described it.
While an active cycling route and a vibrant part of the Oaklands neighbourhood, Haultain Corners also has a series of walls that often suffer from unsightly tagging. Given the daily influx of walkers, cyclers, strollers, commuters, students, shoppers and coffee-breakers, I knew I had to take all these aspects into consideration when planning my design for this high-profile location.
The resulting four-panel, mural—aptly titled “What Makes A Community . . .”—was created over five days with the participation of more than 60 people. The neighbourhood itself helped us paint the tarot-inspired panels, which represent themes of creativity, growth, nature and magic: essential elements in any community.
The idea of working together was particularly relevant in August 2020: people were eager to participate in a celebratory neighbourhood project after a spring spent mostly indoors due to the pandemic—and no one minded following our COVID safety plan (which included contract tracing, constant sanitizing, limiting the number of painters and using a two-metre pole to keep everyone safely separated).
We also had to work together behind-the-scenes to make it all happen. Planning began months before any brush got dipped, with Melanie at U Retreat getting a grant from the Victoria Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants program, in association with the Oaklands Community Association. The paint was generously donated by Cook Street Castle Building Centre (frequent participants in various community-building projects themselves), and I hired a longtime artistic associate, Jenni Corrin, to not only paint but also facilitate two days of creating the wall-sized paint-by-numbers. For that (long) short week, we became the focus of the Oaklands community, greeting and meeting the constant stream of visitors and well-wishers as they checked in on the project.
Art makes community
Any mural is more than just paint on a wall. From planning and prepping to inspiration and perspiration, murals are concrete representations of community itself: people coming together, often in challenging times, to transform a neighbourhood through art. And, once it’s done, it then becomes a desired destination, a photographic location and a source of inspiration for what is to come.
Rather than walk by a messy wall and think, “Why can’t someone do something about that?”, why not look around your community and think, “Is there a neglected spot where we can work together to create something beautiful?”
Take a look at your own neighbourhood with fresh eyes: is there a wall in that could do with a creative transformation?
Photos by John Threlfall
Guest Author Bio
Beth Threlfall A longtime Victoria resident, Beth Threlfall works hard to bring her art into the world on a day-to-day basis. Believing that art is a way of living—not a thing to do—continues to help her build community through her artistic practice. She is perhaps best known as the originator of Fernwood’s famous Pole Painting Project, which she started back in 2008 and has not only transformed the look and feel of her Fernwood neighbourhood but has also inspired residents to artistically engage with and participate in their local surroundings. Over the years, her work has been seen at the AGGV Paint-In, Moss Street Market, and several cafes and community galleries. She has led the creation of a number of murals in the city, and works with the Pandora Arts Collective community arts group.
Visit Beth’s Blog / Website: https://rustycauldronstudios.wordpress.com/
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