Gerda Hofman and Marc Fillion created the Jean Burns Project, part of the City of Nanaimo’s Temporary Outdoor Public Art Program, to beautify the space around the Jean Burns building construction site. RACHEL STERN / The News Bulletin

VIDEO: Jean Burns Project revitalizes heart of downtown Nanaimo

Project part of the City of Nanaimo’s temporary outdoor public art program

Colourful paintings and archival photos depicting the city of Nanaimo obscure the crumbling debris of the Jean Burns building.

The building, gutted by a fire in spring 2016 and demolished this March, sits in ruins in the heart of downtown Nanaimo. To create a more positive feel, Jean Burns Project organizers Gerda Hofman, a Nanaimo artist, and Marc Fillion, owner of Mambo Pizza, spearheaded an art project to bring beauty and ownership to the space.

“It was a big eyesore for everybody to look at the space the way that it was. We knew it was going to stay that way for a long time so we kind of wanted to have something going on and make things a bit more positive,” said Fillion.

Fillion said 32 Nanaimo business owners stepped up and donated. The project also received funding through the City of Nanaimo’s temporary outdoor public art program. The project was one of seven temporary art pieces installed in Nanaimo.

“It was great to have the community involved,” said Fillion. “Things like this take a long time sometimes. And with lemons we need to make lemonade and this is just, unfortunately, to be a work site for a while, but we still want people to feel comfortable coming down and enjoying themselves downtown.”

Hofman said she’s received numerous positive comments about the project since it was installed in April.

“This project was really well supported by everybody,” said Hofman.

Hofman and Fillion led residents and dignitaries on a tour Friday (May 12) to officially open the project.

“What I find so interesting is when you stand and look at it all and look at it carefully, and if you have an interest in the history of Nanaimo, you don’t even realize what’s behind it,” said Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, during the tour. “It’s so distracting that it lightens your spirit and you don’t realized what happened behind it.”

Leonard Krog, Nanaimo MLA, said he thinks it’s an “amazing project.”

“It reminds people of the fact that this is the third oldest city in the province with a long and interesting history,” said Krog, adding that there is still a lot of work needed around First Nations history, but the project depicts moments from the city’s history since colonization. “It shows what an important contribution a small group of dedicated people can do when they put their minds to it … I think it will make people view it as they’re suppose to do. Stop and think.”

arts@nanaimobulletin.com