Pan Am pop up art shifting the spotlight on Barton's decline

In the shadow of Hamilton's new stadium is a street that has been left behind. One organizers hoped to cover up by filling empty storefronts with Hamilton's latest export: art.

'Big Up Barton' will use audio and interactive elements to spur conversation and bring back memories

Camille Turner - Big Up Barton

7 years ago
Duration 2:52
Camille Turner talks about her upcoming art installation in Hamilton for the Pan Am Games - 'Big Up Barton.'

In the shadow of Hamilton's new stadium is a street that has been left behind. It's one Pan Am Games organizers hoped to cover up by dressing empty storefronts with Hamilton's latest export: art.

But the makers of the temporary facade appears to be flipping the switch on it's original intention. Instead of hiding Barton's decline, one artists's installation has put its erosion into the spotlight.

I really feel that this is an opportunity to think about the past and really celebrate the present but also to imagine what the future holds.- Camille Turner

Camille Turner grew up on Grays Road and Barton Street East and went to school at McMaster University in the 80s, riding the HSR through the once-vibrant stretch when the city's middle class was once flush with steel money.

All of that, of course, is now gone.

Turner returned to her former home, and collected audio interviews from up and down the street. Her exhibit features a map of Barton, with iPads and headsets on stands for people to listen to the audio stories Turner has compiled. Visitors will be able to write down their own memories of Barton on paper and pin them on the wall-sized map of the street.

People outside of Barton 'dismiss' the area: Turner

That interactive element, said Turner who now lives in Toronto, is what she imagines will spur talk in the shadow of the the Pan Am Games.

"Hopefully there will be conversations," Turner said. "I'm really looking forward to that, the conversations that will happen when people recognize all the old building and listen to the memories and it jogs their own memories."

Her exhibit is one of three that will be held in a south facing storefront, a former bowling alley that was later absorbed by a church.  The carpets in the empty, musty, building needed to be stretched and cleaned, and recently painted walls were erected to fit three separate installations. The exhibits were curated by Centre 3 and artist Jim Riley.

Turner was surprised at the state of the street when she returned.

She recalls a local bookstore owner who described the street "as a mouth with teeth missing."

But, adds Turner: "She says there's some relay cool places, and really great people. I mean that's what I see, I think it's really important to look at what's here and not just focus on what's missing."

'Coming back, it was heartbreaking'

"Coming back, it was heartbreaking, seeing the stores become vacant and seeing what's going on," Turner said. "I jumped at the opportunity to come here and to really talk to people on Barton and really get to know the community, and really 'big up' the community. That's why I called the project 'Big Up Barton.'"

"The audience is kind of two-fold. It's going to be the people that live here, work here, are part of the community, and then people from the outside. I'm really hoping that the people from the outside start to really see this community the way they see themselves."

The exhibit is not about sport in any way. Turner has used the backdrop of the Games as a way to reinvigorate questions about the street that appears to have been left behind while nearby James Street North gentrifies.

"I talk to people outside of this community and they just sort of dismiss this area. I really feel that a lot of people that are dismissing it, feel that it's because they haven't taken the time to get to know it," Turner said.

"I want to shift their perspective. And for the community I really feel that this is an opportunity to think about the past and really celebrate the present but also to imagine what the future holds."

Turner's exhibit is located at 749 Barton Street East, and is just one of three exhibits in the gallery, on a street that will also host a number of storefront displays. The event opens on July 10, and runs from noon to 6 p.m. throughout the Pan Am Games, to July 26, on Fridays Saturdays and Sundays.


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