Nanaimo’s urban artists are reimagining the city’s downtown as a blank canvas for public art.
Alyssa Glassford and Lauren Semple of Humanity in Art are creating a public art gallery on the exterior walls of the former A&B Sound building at the intersection of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue.
Artists will cover the building in murals throughout the summer and the first mural will hopefully be completed by the May long weekend.
Glassford, project artistic director, recently completed a mural at Lois Lane near the China Steps and has murals in Wisteria Lane near Haliburton and Milton streets. She and Semple, project manager, have mapped out space on the building for about 18 murals. The final number will vary depending on size of each piece.
The project will be funded through a recently created non-profit division of their business.
“Alyssa and myself have expanded on the art company, the business,” Semple said. “She paints murals under Humanity in Art and we’ve created a non-profit, Humanity in Community, and that non-profit’s goal is to support public art projects and urban rehabilitation through funding and fundraising, so we crowd-fund and we do community building around urban spaces to rehabilitate them through large-scale art.”
Semple said the project has received six submissions from artists wanting to participate since the project was announced Monday.
The loss of the Jean Burns building and current state of the A&B Sound building made revitalizing Nanaimo’s main downtown intersection a top priority.
“That prominent corner of Nanaimo is really suffering and it is an eyesore for tourists, for citizens alike, the community members who live in downtown and run businesses in downtown are suffering … because that corner needs a little love.”
It took several months, starting in early January, to gain approvals from the building owner, Vancouver-based Steiner Properties, and the city.
Art murals aren’t governed under city sign bylaws, said Chris Barfoot, city culture and heritage coordinator, so the mural proposal was treated similarly to proposals made under the city’s public art program. He and Chris Sholberg, city heritage planner, gave their thumbs-up for the project after determining the organizers had permission from the building owner and other safeguards were in place as part of the plan.
“We reviewed the proposal in the sense that we wanted to ensure that it was a decent process that they were doing and it was fair and they weren’t putting any artists’ reputations in jeopardy and then also to ensure that the content that was going to be going up on the building was going to be appropriate,” Barfoot said.
The city also wanted to be sure the project organizers had a plan for maintenance, due to fading or vandalism, in place.
“We did have some concerns when it first came through,” Barfoot said. “The artist, Alyssa Glassford, who has participated in our public art program before and also has done some other community work, definitely addressed those concerns with her proposal … We were excited that somebody stepped up and wanted to enhance that space.”
Photographs and art created for the Jean Burns building art project are being reinstalled and a mural festival project currently under consideration, but that, Barfoot said, will depend on whether building owners are supportive of a mural festival, ensuring mural content is appropriate for the spaces and nailing down a plan for what happens after murals start to deteriorate and need to be replaced.
“It’s definitely a plan for later in the summer,” Semple said. “It’s an idea we’re toying with, but obviously getting the building painted and the Urban Art Gallery established is our first priority.”
To help finance the A&B Sound building project Humanity in Art has started a crowdfunding campaign goal of $10,000.
To learn more about or donate to the project, visit www.humanityinart.com/community.