I first noticed Claudia Gutierrez’ mural at Man Phat when walking down Somerset. It was a beautiful floral design that replaced the drab store exterior. Social media guy that I am, I posted a photo of it on Instagram. The reaction was immediate. People loved it. Unfortunately for Claudia, the piece was tagged just days after she finished. She thinks it might have been a kid just wanting to cause some ruckus. In the end, it was just an unfortunate situation. She spent a few hours repainting it and that’s the end.
It’s ironic that it was the situation, rather than the project itself, that got the press to pay attention, but people were so appalled that it just exploded on Facebook. The project – Chinatown Blossom – is much more than that one mural, although Gutierrez’ might be the most visible.
How did this whole thing begin? Last August, Grace Xin, head of the Chinatown Business Improvement Association (BIA), called the Ottawa School of Arts to propose a project that would help beautify the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, it was summer time and OSA was pretty empty. Xin resorted to contacting Claudia, who she knew from her previous work in Chinatown Remixed. As well as being an artist, Claudia is a Development Officer at OSA. They started talking and Claudia thought the OSA would definitely be interested in the project.
OSA ended up using the project as a course to teach students the ins and outs of public commissions: how to do contracts; mock-ups, deal with clients; work with feedback; etc. “The business side of things can be more difficult for artists”, says Claudia.
In the end, the participating artists are doing it as a gift for the community. They aren’t being paid, but instead will receive a school credit. It’s a good thing for Chinatown that will improve the neighbourhood.
In Gutierrez’ opinion, it takes a lot for a BIA to realize that something should be done about the beauty of its neighborhood. Businesses were very much proactive in the work – helping pick the floral theme, suggesting ideas and giving feedback on the mock-ups – since the project was intended to work similarly to the public commission process.
The businesses very much wanted a nature theme, thus ‘Chinatown Blossom’. “Because it’s a very urban area, there is not a lot of room for gardens and flowers. The murals are about bringing nature to the neighbourhood through paintings” explains Claudia. In the spring, there was an opportunity to get grant from the city to pay for material, which they received.
There was, however, a rather large bump in the road, not unlike what Pour Boy on Somerset experienced when it wanted to put up a mural. The graffiti by-law does not permit murals on the windows and doors of buildings. The Somerset BIA needed an exemption to allow for the front doors, windows and walls to be painted. It took a motion to Council by Councillor Diane Holmes on May 8th to allow this exemption for the Somerset BIA from Bay to Preston. It passed unanimously.
The actual work began at the end of May and all projects are now complete. In total, there are 25 murals by 11 artists. There is quite a bit of diversity in the commissions – some are on windows, some are on doors, some are smaller and on the side of the business while others (like Claudia’s) are larger scale.
Gutierrez thinks that many other neighborhoods would benefit from a similar project. She would love to work with the Bank St. BIA for example, especially since they have recently gone through a branding change and may be open to the idea of beautifying the street.
To check out more of the Chinatown Blossom murals you’ll have to take a stroll on Somerset!