Edmonton

Edmonton arts council unperturbed by 'saucy,' not-so-happy messages on Happy Wall

City arts officials are content to let Edmontonians use the city’s Happy Wall to display all manner of not-so-happy messages.

'Every once in a while we get some saucy language on there or a saucy little picture'

Edmontonians' handiwork on the Happy Wall hasn't always been the most tasteful. (CBC)

City arts officials are content to let Edmontonians use the city's Happy Wall to display all manner of not-so-happy messages.

The Happy Wall, an interactive art installation made of more than 1,000 panels of colourful reclaimed wood, was first put on display in Sir Winston Churchill Square in May.

The pixel art display allows people to create messages or images by flipping the wood panels.  

All manner of messages have been displayed on the wall since it was installed, said Bob Rasko, Churchill Square programmer with the Edmonton Arts Council.

There have been phallic images and vulgar phrases and even some choice words for the United Conservative Party, but most people are expressing themselves politely, Rasko said.

The wall has proven to be a muse for city-dwellers and most of the messages have been more sweet than saucy, he said. 

A self-policing muse 

"Every once in a while we get some saucy language on there or a saucy little picture but more often than not we're just getting people sharing their ideas, promoting their business and lots of hearts, hearts are very popular."

Rasko said city workers have been checking on the exhibit every now and then to make sure offensive or derogatory messages don't remain on the wall, but there is little appetite for any kind of serious enforcement. 

It's self-policing, Rasko said. Nothing on the billboard lasts very long.

"We really aren't too concerned about sitting there and trying to make decisions about what is considered offensive or what the message is saying," he said. "It just changes too fast."

Rasko said messages rarely remain on the billboard for longer than an hour before the wooden panels are switched to something new by another passerby.

"The wall is so popular that even the really nice messages that are being put up don't stay up very long, because it's constantly being used."

A wonder wall 

The Happy Wall, an internationally-popular idea, was first designed in Copenhagen by artist Thomas Dambo in 2014 to help revitalize construction sites.

The Happy Wall will remain a fixture in Edmonton's Churchill Square until at least May 2019.

Depending on how well it withstands Edmonton's harsh winters, the city may purchase the wall and use it again, Rasko said.

He would like to see it become a permanent fixture in downtown Edmonton.

"We did negotiate with the artist to perhaps purchase the wall, but that will really depend on how it survives an Edmonton winter," he said.

 "Once we get to spring of next year we will have a much better idea of how the wall will stand up to our cold weather.

"It's wonderful to have that piece there. It's used all the time and it's become a bit of a destination point for the square."

now