Artists hope to dress up Barton Street for the Pan Am Games

The city hopes to dress up Barton Street by putting art installations in abandoned storefronts and holding events on the street.
Artists are putting installations in at least seven vacant storefronts along Barton Street for the Pan Am Games. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's the 2015 Pan Am Games. People from across North America are visiting your city's new stadium. And one block away is a street marred with vacant storefronts and derelict buildings. What do you do?

If you're the city of Hamilton, you turn to art.

A group of artists, armed with government grants, are planning art installations in at least seven of the vacant storefronts along Barton Street to dress it up for the Pan Am Games.

Stretches of the street are known for their vacant buildings and absentee landlords. And those stretches are dangerously close to the new Tim Horton's Field, which will host the soccer matches for the Pan Am Games July 10 to 27, which is expected to draw thousands of international spectators.

There's this perception that if you need a sex worker, you go to Barton Street. If you need some drugs, you go to Barton Street. It's time to say that's not all Barton Street should be known for.- Rachel Braithwaite, president, Gibson and Landsdale Neighbourhood Association

Ingrid Mayrhofer from Centre 3 is co-ordinating a project that includes art installations on Barton Street's vacant and boarded-up storefronts.

She's also co-ordinating three multimedia installations as part of a themed exhibition called "Pop-Up Store." An event on July 12 called ArtMatch — tentatively planned for St. Anthony's Church — will include soccer-themed poetry and art from local artists.

It serves a dual purpose of bringing Hamilton art and culture to the games, and beautifying an area that isn't exactly camera ready right now.

"There is that aspect, I guess, of not necessarily beautification, but of introducing a visual aesthetic to an area that may not have had that exposure before," she said.

Ingrid Mayrhofer from Centre 3 on James North is co-ordinating efforts to put art installations in vacant storefronts on Barton Street for the 2015 Pan Am Games. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Mayrhofer's group received $30,000 from the Canadian Council for the Arts, and additional grants from the city and the Ontario Arts Council.

Still trying to contact landlords

It's been a challenge to contact some of the landlords, she said. Some are enthusiastic and some are elusive.

"We're still working on it," she said.

Visual artists from Hamilton, Brantford, London, Toronto and elsewhere will do storefront installations.

I don't know why it couldn't have happened sooner, but I'm thankful it's happening.- Rachel Braithwaite

Barton Street will be a main thoroughfare for the games, said Shelley Merlo, the city's cultural co-ordinator for the Pan Am Games. So it's important that it looks good.

"We're hoping residents, combined with horticulture and the owners of the buildings, can take pride in that area and showcase it a little bit," she said.

Could be 'a legacy project'

The art will only last for the duration of the games, but as for a lasting impact, "you never know," she said.

"It could become a legacy project, or it could have the impetus for someone to say 'we'd better do this again.'"

Mayrhofer sees it as bringing "positive attention" to the area.

"We're not going to claim that we're going to revitalize Barton Street, but I can't see how having art exhibitions in empty storefronts is going to harm the neighbourhood."

The Pan Am group isn't the only one trying to breathe new life into the street. A new Barton Village Festival is planned for June 20 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The annual event will include three stages of music, vendors and other attractions.

Much like James North has Art Crawl and Ottawa Street has Sew Hungry, Barton Street needs an annual event, said Rachel Braithwaite, one of the organizers.

The good parts of Barton Street 

"It's got a bad rap, unfortunately, and that tends to stick," she said.

"There's this perception that if you need a sex worker, you go to Barton Street. If you need some drugs, you go to Barton Street.

"It's time to say that's not all Barton Street should be known for. There's so much more. This is us standing up and saying 'no, thank you.'"

Braithwaite is happy with the attention the Pan Am Games are bringing to the street too.

"It's ironic that it needs Pan Am for that to happen," said Braithwaite, who is president of the Gibson and Landsdale Neighbourhood Association.

"I don't know why it couldn't have happened sooner, but I'm thankful it's happening. It's about time."

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