Charlottetown Artists represent the Cultural Capital in Ottawa on Canada Day!

The City of Charlottetown participated in Canada Day Celebrations in the Nation’s Capital as part of its Cultural Capital of Canada Designation for 2011. The “Avenue of the 2011 Cultural Capitals of Canada” showcased Charlottetown and its cultural community on July 1st to thousands of visitors to Major’s Hill Park throughout the day and evening.

Charlottetown shared the “Avenue” with Vancouver, B.C. and Lévis, QC, also designated Cultural Capitals of Canada in 2011 with each of the three Cultural Capitals presenting collaborative, interactive art projects and mural art works.

Visual artists Mauricio Aristizábal and Sandi Hartling, and metalsmith Gail Hodder, created “The Red Oak”, a sculpture of PEI’s provincial tree with leaves fashioned from potato stamps, an interactive component for the public’s participation.

“The gates opened at 10AM and a surge of people approached us with curiosity. When we explained we needed their help, all were ready to commit to making one, or several stamps of the red oak leaf. Some visiting kids, and adults alike, were enthralled with the idea that stamps could be made with a potato”, explains Gail Hodder.

“Luckily many National Capital Commission volunteers helped us throughout the day to welcome visitors and explain what we were building. More than once they explained ’these artists are from Charlottetown and they even brought the potatoes from PEI!’”

“It was recorded that we had nearly 2000 visitors helping us!” Hodder confirmed.

After the sculpture was complete, the group of Charlottetown artists was thrilled to watch people touch the tree and pose for photos.

“We really felt a huge amount of accomplishment and pride to represent the City of Charlottetown and to help celebrate our Nation’s birthday!” says Hodder.

Becka Viau, artist and photographer, delivered a living (8’x12’) mural covered in a pattern of red clay and Island wheat grass which grew from seed, following planting and arrangement within the mural many weeks prior to its installation in Ottawa. The pattern of “earthly” materials referenced PEI’s provincial flag and the Island’s green and red landscape. The heart of the mural was a small oval “lawn” onto which a golden lion was painted, resembling the royal lion found on PEI’s provincial flag and Canada’s various national symbols.

“I developed my project so I would have lots of opportunities to stop working on the mural and talk with the passing crowds. All I had to do the day of the celebrations was apply the red clay from Tea Hill Provincial Park onto the living mural, and of course keep the tiny plants watered in the 35 degree heat and sun”, says Viau.

“The other two artists that were creating murals on site were using spray paint. There were too many times to count when people from the crowd came up to me and thanked me for bringing “green art” to the festival.”

Viau noted that children were especially attracted to what she was doing as she was literally covered in red dirt. While most declined a red clay handshake, some did touch the red clay with one finger.

While putting the final touches of clay onto the mural, Becka heard a faint call from across the field saying, “Hey! It is P.E.I! Come on you have to see this!” A couple from P.E.I., now living in Ontario, spotted the Island colours from across the park.

“Really, the green and red colours of P.E.I. are extremely unique and it is sometimes only when you are away from this little island that you understand how important landscape and environment are to your identity and sense of place”, says Viau.

Ann Carrière, Cultural Capital of Canada Coordinator for the City of Charlottetown, accompanied the delegation and spent the day interacting with visitors and helping the artists with their work. “It was an absolutely perfect day in the Nation’s Capital for Charlottetown” Carrière said. “The level of visitor involvement and delight was second to none, and our group of artists were a source of great pride.”

The artists representing the City of Charlottetown were selected with guidance from the PEI Council of the Arts. Charlottetown band Two Hours Traffic was also selected by the National Capital Commission and the CBC to take part in special Canada Day activities and concerts at Jacques-Cartier Park. With Jenn Grant performing for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Parliament Hill, Prince Edward Island was front and center throughout the day in the Nation’s Capital.

The “Avenue of the 2011 Cultural Capitals of Canada” initiative was developed by the department of Canadian Heritage and National Capital Commission.

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