How Canadian cities are bringing public art to the streets


Public art is accessible art that can reflect the history of a city but it can also contribute to its modernization. It serves as a symbol of creativity and contributes to the vibrancy of the community.

This summer three Canadian cities brought public art to the streets by brightening up walls, animating parks, and enlivening bus stops and major streets.

Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver are rejuvenating neighborhoods with fun, flamboyant and luminous public art.


In August, artist Mark Thompson‘s installation Cube, Lattice, Sphere, Wave, composed of four transparent boxes filled with painted, powdered glass and LED lights were installed along a one-kilometer stretch on Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa.


The four illuminated sculptures explore how we perceive color, light and motion.

Strips of glass are placed inside each structure and lit with pre-programmed LED lights. For Mark Thompson light is of the outmost importance in creating his works of art. The way glass refracts light and how the eye perceives it is critical to his art form.

“The colors actually change very slowly, you’re standing there waiting for a bus, you’re looking at it and it’s red, 20 minutes later you’re looking at it and it’s yellow. It will have a calming, meditating effect on a bustling, urban environment.” explains Thompson.

At Waller Street, the  liveliness of downtown radiates through warm colors from bright yellow to blazing red in Cube.


Lattice, resembles floating letters or numbers so that sculpture was set up by the Ottawa Public Library.

Sphere can be seen near Cobourg Street. The green color reflects the values of community, integrity and health.

Wave lit in blue was strategically placed by the Rideau River as a symbol of nature. Waves are unstoppable, a force of nature and emphasize strength.


In July, the city of Toronto unveiled a collection of murals that now embellish the expressway pillars in Underpass Park, the most extensive park to ever be built under an overpass in Canada.

Canadian-Public_Street_Art-img03 Photo by Craig White

Located beneath the the Adelaide Street/Richmond Street/Eastern Avenue overpasses, Underpass Park has transformed an unused space into a lively urban area with a large skate park, basketball courts, playgrounds.

The 23 pillars of the underpass were painted by a coalition of over 20 artists to showcase the diversity of art in the city.

Canadian-Public_Street_Art-img04Photo by Craig White  

Labrona, the artist who painted the first row of pillars, chose to paint large, individual figures at the base of each column symbolizing human pillars, holding up the city. Reminding us that “it is not the concrete that holds up the road, but the people and communities that hold up society.”


For the third installment of the Vancouver Biennale running through to 2016, 20 public art sculptures will be installed throughout parks and open spaces in the city. The objective is to surprise people by setting up large imaginative and unusual pieces of art in uncanny locations.


The installation, Love your Beans, at Charleson Park are not made of sugar. They are  giant Jelly Beans that stand 4 feet in diameter and over 6 feet long made of fibreglass resin and weighing 320Kg each. The artist Cosimo Cavallaro says: “The sculptures in Love Your Beans break the boundaries that exist between objects and humans. They compel you to touch them, crossing borders when you allow yourself to be led by your senses.”

Giants  is a mural that covers six huge cement silos on Granville Island.  The silos were transformed with spray paint by Brazilian twin brothers OSGEMEOS.


Art whether it is painted, lit or sculpted has the power to reclaim spaces and make them public and by doing so brings a sense of pride to a community.

What is your favorite public art installation in your city?

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