Amber Aasman is a Hamilton-based community artist and one of the five artists participating in Ontario Culture Days’ Youth Arts Ambassador Program (YAAP), an exciting new initiative aimed at fostering and supporting the next generation of community artists in our province. The Arts Ambassadors are currently working on community arts projects that will premiere during this year’s Culture Days weekend in each of their regions. Read more about Amber and the Youth Arts Ambassadors Program at on.culturedays.ca/en/yaap
As summer begins to quickly slip by, I am starting to feel the nearness of Culture Days 2016. Up until this point September felt like a whole season away – all of a sudden this is no longer the case!
In June, I met with a couple of the community organizers for a local neighbourhood project called “Gallery Alley.” This is a strip of garages, back yard fences, and a handful of industrial spaces that back onto what has been a particularly notorious alleyway for trouble of different kinds. Last year, the residents worked closely with the neighbourhood association and their community developer to rally some funds to go toward renovating the alley: installing new lights, paving the surface, and funding a handful of murals to brighten up the space. These murals are planned to run the length of both sides of the alleyway, and our hope is that this site will become a vibrant, colourful destination for folks to enjoy the art while strolling through the neighbourhood. My mural will be one of the early pieces of Gallery Alley, and I am honoured to be able to position my Culture Days mural within a project much bigger than just my own!
It’s a delicate thing to parachute into another group’s project: in some ways, I am just coming in for the exciting part, the tip of the iceberg. The real hard legwork came from the residents and planning team – this kind of commitment and enthusiasm for real transformation is what makes Hamilton a pretty special place. I am really happy that I can attach my small creative contribution to a project with a much larger-scale, and that it will have an ongoing life as part of Gallery Alley.
Several years ago, when I visited San Francisco, I remember a colourful, vibrant walk through “Clarion Alley,” a block-long alleyway mural project that includes the work of over 100 street and mural artists. It struck me that what started as a common alleyway is now considered a destination for art lovers and tourists– every city has hundreds. But with the powerful addition of the murals, this outdoor spot has transformed into something very special.
I have high hopes for a similar transformation in Gallery Alley here in my own city!
My project is only one of a handful of community arts projects that are supported by Culture Days. As a member of the Youth Arts Ambassador Program, I am lucky to have my cohort of fellow artists. When we all met at our YAAP retreat in June (along with the Culture Days staff, interns, and various community artists and organizations from the GTA), we had plenty of good conversations throughout these short couple of days. One point that sticks in my mind is around what makes good community art. How can an artist design a process that is both engaging for a wide variety of groups, while also creating an innovative, thought-provoking art piece? In many cases, interactive art can become a bit boring, tokenistic, or overly simple. How can a community artist ensure the process and product receive their due attention? I’ve had many thoughts about this since then, but I am coming to the conclusion that good-quality community arts projects provide an access point for highly engaging, meaningful creative work while also making room for genuine human connection. This definition will act as my touchstone for my mural project moving forward, and I look forward to thoughtfully organizing my Culture Days activity to this end.
Spending those days with my YAAP cohort was really inspiring and gave me great hope that community arts can truly be a lively, high-quality, and vibrant art practice. I am encouraged by the connections forged with artists across the province through YAAP, and feel very inspired by these small sparks that have so much potential. I am so grateful to Culture Days for this unique opportunity, and look so forward to all of our projects!
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