Since November, Marc Walter has been working with residents of Jasmine Crescent to build land art sculptures in the neighbourhood. With the project almost complete, he answered a few question about how the work has been going so far.
How have you been organising your time on Jasmine Crescent and who has been helping you?
I have been working at two locations on Jasmine Crescent, at the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard and in Jasmine Park. The idea originally was to engage youth on the crescent but there have been some challenges. The main method of outreach has been dropping off flyers and word of mouth which hasn’t drawn many. Instead I have been creating by myself with the help of whoever happens to come by. At the park it is mostly people walking along the street and at the Food Cupboard it is people who come to get food, mostly adults, or small children. About two teenagers have participated so far, I would welcome more participation from that group.
What happens when people stop to help?
People usually help for about 15 minutes to half an hour. There are also a lot of people who have stopped and talked to me, intrigued by the sculpture itself or wanting to tell a story related to the crescent or about somebody they know who was involved in the arts. They don’t always contribute to the piece, but having a conversation and connecting is also part of the project.
What have you learned about Jasmine Crescent through this project?
What I can see in people’s eyes is that they need to have something positive in their neighbourhood. They are tired of being tagged as a dangerous area. The other day, as you may have heard, there was another stabbing on the street. It happened about two hours before I started, but the cops and the media were still there when I arrived. Between events like this, I think people enjoy the idea of having something creative on the crescent. When they come and talk to me they mention that they have seen the other pieces, they say that it is nice and it brings something interesting and fun. There are three families, moms with kids between about four and eight, who have come several times to both locations.
What do you think draws them to this project?
I think they want the kids to interact with the piece and to see it evolve. It is something that is new and that is charged with some positivity. I think the process speaks to them, in terms of the materials and that it is happening live. Sometimes I think they just like to talk because I am available.
And you know there are many people who are like that. Like there is this guy at the Food Cupboard and he is kind of weird, a little aggressive but he talks a lot. He has been there four of the six times, and usually he is quite negative, about other people, about immigrants, just negative overall. But last time when the Christmas lights came out there were lots of people around, quite a few new Canadians too, then he became all positive and supportive with everyone. He was taking pictures wanting to send them to his sister and to Ottawa City Councillor Tim Tierney. So, in some ways it is creating a more open dialogue between residents.
What is the most surprising thing you have found in this project so far?
For me the biggest realisation has been how many people struggle. You don’t really know it until you confront it. I have also realised how much people need to talk. For these people who are struggling to get food and to eat, many are stuck in a difficult cycle. This project gives them a chance to be seen and to share their stories. In many ways, this kind of project is more about the human side of things than the physical sculpture.
What has been the biggest challenge?
I feel a bit disconnected from the neighbourhood, because the groups of youth I had expected did not turn out and there hasn’t been much work in terms of involving the school. So, in terms of the objective of working with youth, that goal hasn’t been met. But for me as an artist, I see the goal as working with a group that I do not normally serve. Being involved in this project on Jasmine Crescent I think it brings a lot to the community, and I know that it brings something positive to the people just by giving them the opportunity to speak and to be part of the creative process.