Ottawa

Jasmine Crescent art project looks to make connections in troubled neighbourhood

Violent crime has dogged Jasmine Crescent, but a local art initiative is hoping to foster creativity and communication among the people who live in the community.

Art Place hopes to build 'a place for conversation' on street with 3 homicides in 3 years

The new sculptures on Jasmine Crescent are created from branches, twigs, feathers, beads and Christmas lights. (CBC News/Ottawa.)

Set beneath the highrises of Jasmine Crescent, next to the food bank, a series of sculptures fashioned from fallen tree branches, feathers, beads and Christmas lights stand as a fragile sign of welcome and hope in a community plagued by crime.

In the last three years, the east Ottawa street has been the scene of three homicides, several shootings and a number of stabbings — all of which have created an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

There's now hope, however, that the community will benefit from an arts program that encourages collaboration and creativity.

It's called Art Place, an arrangement that brings artists to the community, and it's managed by the AOE Arts Council.

Neighbourhood kids take part in building sculptures made of branches at Jasmine Crescent Park. (Marc Walter)

"When a neighbourhood is struck by violent acts, it gets characterized [as violent] right away" said artist Marc Walter, pointing to the clutter of for sale and for rent signs that line the area. 

"But when you talk to people here, they have a regular life, like you and me."

Marc Walter talks about how art created 'windows of opportunity' for connections with refugees. 0:46

The sculptures are Walter's concept. He's an artist who works with natural materials. But it took many hands, from many different backgrounds, to assemble the elaborate, whimsical creations.

"We had people of all ages, families, immigrants, adults and smaller kids," said Walter. "Many who came to help were people using the food bank."

 A volunteer with the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard pitched in the Christmas lights, in order to create a warm and bright welcome for those lining up in the cold winter night for food. 

Many who helped build the sculptures were recent immigrants who stopped to chat, cut a ribbon, or attach a feather to a branch.

This sculpture next door to the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard lights up at night. (Art Place)
 

"It created more of a community sense, a place for conversation," said Erin O'Manique, the food bank's executive director.

"It created a more welcoming atmosphere for people who need to come here for food."

The artist-in-residence program involves the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre and the Jasmine Crescent Safety Committee, and its goal is to give the community something positive to work on together.

"Through art, there are windows of opportunities to create conversations," said Walter. "And if in society we could have more of those little windows, I think it would be great."

About the Author

Sandra Abma

Journalist

Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at sandra.abma@cbc.ca.