Ottawa photo show - urban reality

We're planning a photo exhibit as part of the annual House of PainT hip-hop festival here in Ottawa. The exhibit will be at Fall Down Gallery, 288 Bank, opening August 4th.

The concept behind the exhibit is 'Ottawa as an Urban City'.

We're constantly shown images of Ottawa produced by the NCC or Tourism Canada, featuring sunset bike rides along the river or skating along the canal, but for most of the people who live in Ottawa - and love the city - the reality is much more urban. We're looking for images that show Ottawa as a CITY - a place where people live, work, travel, shop, party, chill, play, on streets, sidewalks, back alleys, yards and parking lots. We want to show that Ottawa is beautiful not only for our tourist attractions, but also for those things we experience day to day.

So in keeping with the 2011 festival theme - CONNECT - we're looking for work that, in some way, connects the viewer to Ottawa (the architecture, the landscape, the people, etc...) in that way. We want to connect Ottawans with the urban reality of the city.

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Elicser Art Exhibit @ Norml March 20th

On March 20th, Toronto based graffiti artist Elicser brings his surreal works to Norml art gallery for a six week show. Elicser_norml posterF (Medium)

Armed with only spray cans, Elicser transforms canvases and walls to blend into figurative works of art, utilizing vivid characters and scenic landscapes. This gallery showing will be a combination of canvas works and pieces painted directly onto the gallery walls. 

Here's a link to many photos on Flickr of his murals, including some of my pics.

And here's a link to some of his earlier art, at

The Elicser exhibit at Norml opens on Saturday (20th), but on Friday the artist will be painting art on the walls in preparation. Drop by to watch him work, have a chat, admire his work, and buy some for your own walls. A good range of prices, for the starving student or the serious collector. 

The show will run from March 20 to May 1. 

Norml is at 184 Rideau street in Ottawa, and on Facebook as Norml Clothing. For more info call Norml at (613) 562-2043. 

Ottawa Urban Arts

It looks like there will soon be a new grouping of artists here in Ottawa to work on murals - and work on developing an overall program and build on the several murals they did here last summer. I've been working for the past few weeks with a couple of young urban art artists here in Ottawa - people with not just great artistic skills but with some good business skills, with a desire to get serious about developing their own skills and those of their friends, with the motivation to keep at it, and I hope the leadership to bring some of their friends along too.  I'll be mentoring the process, and encouraging local artists to get directly involved, to show they are serious about not only doing a mural here or there, but adding the depth of a strong local urban arts group. I had written a while ago about what I saw as a lack of this focus and motivation here in Ottawa at this time - I'm glad to see some promise here.

The name will Ottawa Urban Arts. We left out "graffiti" to bypass some misconceptions people have.  That's one of their goals - to change that attitude and develop an appreciation for this art form and more acceptance of the artists. Right now most of the artists do come from a graffiti art background, and that style will influence some of their work. 

Next steps are to refine the mission and some goals, building a web page, and identifying - in the various target groups - who to contact.

There will be a screening process, to determine the style level of the artists, and their specialities. In addition, the group will work with them to develop their artistic skills more, as well as help them acquire some business skills. The team will also start off a few of the more developed ones as leads for projects -  accountable to meet with a customer over initial design ideas, pull together a suitable team, do a detailed design and estimate, sign off on a contract, and supervise both the art and business sides of the project. And when it's finished OK - collect the fee and do a lesson's learned. 

The intent is not to just collect mural requests, but to also actively promote the groups ideas and skills - to business owners, residents, schools, Business Improvement Areas, community groups, city staff, councillors, arts groups, community police. 

We will also use the program Art For Action to work with youth.

The purpose of the community mural mentorship program is to enable youth to identify issues that concern them, express themsleves, and be empowered to advocate for themselves and their peer group about issues within their communities in a positive, constructive way.
Art can be a powerful tool to communicate ideas outside the structures and rules of formal language. This allows those unfamiliar, uncomfortable or uninterested in using formal language to communicate despite the presence of linguistic, socio-economic, and cultural barriers.
The artistic media used in this project are introductory tools, selected to ensure the broadest participation regardless of previous experience or perceived creative ability. Providing individuals with positive avenues of self expression, mentoring youth to refine their artistic skill and providing youth with space where this skill can be legally and positively expressed will help lessen negative, destructive behaviour often prevalent among youth; behaviours that stem from an inability to successfully engage and communicate with one’s peers and community. 
A portion of the Art for Action program is designed to help redirect at-risk youth who have been in contact with the law for charges of graffiti. They will be encouraged to participate in discussions about the difference between positive and negative street art and their effect on the community, and on how to maximize opportunities to exercise artistic expression in a socially beneficial manner. Lead artists from Ottawa Urban Arts will mentor them on the importance of refining artistic skill.
 I'll add more info and a link in here as soon as I have it.

Edit - Now have a web site. And we will also be applying for projects as part of Ottawa's Paint It Up! program.

Urban arts forum

I was pleased to be a guest at an Urban Arts Forum last Wednesday evening (Nov 7), at the SAW Gallery, one of several such forums across Canada that the Governor General's office has coordinated. I was also pleased to be able to add to the ambiance with an exhibition of 28 photos (mine and others) I'd collected on graffiti and our local HoP festival. There were about 200 people there, mostly youth, with some good dialogue on the issues, and some good ideas on solutions. There was a good review of the evening in today's Ottawa Citizen Arts Section.

So - now what? I put in some feedback on the forum blog, sent a note to a number of my local contacts to get their input, and submitted a letter to the editor (Ottawa Citizen). They published it, with a large photo of Her Excellency getting down with Oni the Haitian Sensation. Here's my letter:

Let's channel the energy Governor General sparked - The Ottawa Citizen - Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Re: Jean steps out with street cred, Nov. 10.

Many thanks to Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean for organizing one of a series of urban arts summits across Canada. I was glad to see so much enthusiasm, and hear so many youth and adults speak up on the issues surrounding urban arts in the Ottawa area.

One of the issues raised at the forum that I attended was that the youth do talk, but the adults don't listen.

Former senator Laurier Lapierre spoke of those who live in an "adult ghetto," comfortable within the walls of their own culture and somewhat confused and uncomfortable if they venture outside and encounter things like "hip-hopping."

I admit I was one of those, until eight years ago my eye was caught by a bright spray of graffiti in a back alley.

I started photographing this new (to me) art form, both to preserve and promote these murals to my peers, whether they were neighbours in suburbia or co-workers in office cubicles.

My passion for this led to an expanded interest in other elements of this culture, so that now my circle of peers and friends has been enriched and expanded to include bboys/bgirls (breakdancers), DJs, MCs, and graffiti artists.

I'm glad I ventured out; there are different and interesting ideas outside those walls, and there is also some great art painted on them.

So we had an enthusiastic and well-attended forum in Ottawa. People talked, people listened, there were many valid issues, some creative suggestions -- now what? It's not enough to say that "we" talked, and "they" listened, now "they" fix it. The challenge for everyone is now to build on the momentum, put in some hours, and start making things happen.

Some of the issues raised included poor publicity, Ottawa's conservative risk-averse culture; a lack of communication and disorganization. Perhaps some of those who were calling for action at the forum could start an Ottawa area urban arts committee, with a mission to co-ordinate and guide the development of urban arts here, especially hip-hop culture. Nothing very formal for now, something independent rather than another city committee. This group could channel and encourage enthusiasm and ideas, and add some structure, some funding, some tools, some planning and goals, and pick some objectives for the year.

I'd love to see us all gather next year to celebrate a list of accomplishments, and even be a role model for other cities trying to effect these changes.

If you're interested in more information on urban arts issues, or in taking action, you can contact the Governor General's forum at, or e-mail me via my blog at

We'll see what happens - I'm not interested in this being a one-man show, or a committee of just adults, "official representatives" that are there just to be seen but don't add any real value, that are too busy to commit to some time and deliverables. That may sound cynical, but it happens too often. As I said in my letter, some of us can add structure, help find funding, sort out red tape, but the action needs to be primarily from the urban arts community and youth.