For years, the Dunbar Bridge underpass beneath Bronson Avenue was a neglected corner of the city filled with gravel, litter, dirt and weeds.
Thanks to the grassroots work of local organizers, however, this once forgotten space between Brewer Park and Carleton University has now blossomed into the main site of the annual House of PainT festival, Ottawa’s largest gathering of urban art and culture.
“The festival originated from the City of Ottawa’s decision (in 2003) to legalise the first graffiti wall under the Dunbar Bridge,” explains Rob Reid, media director for House of PainT.
In a nod to this history, the festival’s name comes from a long-lasting piece of graffiti art on the underpass that read “House of Pain.”
This year’s celebration – which is scheduled to run from September 13 to 16 in various venues across the city – will once again showcase the best in urban culture by bringing together artists, slam poets, turntablists, artisans, dancers and MCs from the National Capital Region and beyond.
“The exhibit will look at urban spaces that are often overlooked,” says Reid.
Then on September 14, slam poets will gather at the Ottawa office of Shopify at 126 York in the Byward Market.
“Ottawa has one of the largest poetry slam communities,” notes Reid, describing the impressive local spoken word talent. “We consistently send people to the world championships.”
The poetry slam will run from 7 to 10 pm and tickets are $10. Following the slam session, the Mercury Lounge will play host to a live digital art show by Stefan Thompson and Kenji Toyooka, while DJs Rise Ashen and Lance Baptiste play house music. Tickets for this after party are also $10.
Then on September 15, the main event will take place under the Dunbar Underpass with an artists’ market featuring the work of local artisans, a bboy / bgirl dance battle, local graffiti artists, DJs, an MC showcase and workshops on breakdancing, DJing and graffiti art. (Click here for a video of last year’s festival).
In addition to being free, the main event is an accessible, all-ages event that is family friendly. It also provides a venue where the community can gather and local artists can display their skills.
“From the community association standpoint, providing youth with the opportunity to be trained in music and dance is important to us,” says Reid, when asked about the local impact that the festival has had.
“Giving performing opportunities to local artists [is also key],” he adds. “Local artists are just as important as the headliners because without these artists there would not be a full festival.”
The festival’s grand finale will take place on September 16 with a concert under the Dunbar Bridge featuring such artists as Shad, Maestro Fresh Wes, Kid Koala, Flight Distance, Masia One and Radio Radio (tickets $21 with service charge).
In parallel to the final concert, internationally renowned turntablist Kid Koala will be offering a master class on turntablism at Carleton University from 12 to 2 pm ($15 registration limited).
“This is really an exciting part of our program,” says Reid. “He is one of the leading turntablists in the world.”
For those who want to improve their dance chops, meanwhile, bboy / bgirl master class with Nemesis will also be offered from 12 to 2 pm at Carleton University on the 16th ($25 registration limited).
House of PainT begins on the 13th of this month and runs to the 16th.