Murals at Concordia: the University’s first student-led public art initiative

New faces appeared on the Hall Building’s walls last spring

A project initiated by the CSU financed two murals that were painted in May. Artists Monosourcil and Teenadult were invited to embellish the downtown campus. Colourful and detailed, the artworks’ aim is to represent all aspects of campus life. The student group who initiated the project were finalists for the Forces AVENIR provincial awards in the Arts, Letters, and Culture category.

The seventh floor of the Hall Building is always full of life. During the day, students chat and study while others wait in line for a meal at The People’s Potato. In the evening, a completely different crowd, and groups of dancers gather, in the open space. 

Cristobal Perez-Boudon comes to campus almost every day after work to practice breakdancing. “People come to dance here all the time. Sometimes we are more than 30 people. There are the K-pop dancers and the B-boys,” he explained.

Perez-Boudon witnessed the production of the murals, and for him, they added new energy to the space. “Since they are here, it feels like having our own studio. Before it was just an empty white space, you could think it was a cafeteria, but now there is something more.”

Plain, white walls are what stayed in Christopher Vaccarella’s mind when he started studying at Concordia in 2017. “Everything was the same colour, no life, no personality,” he said. When he became a councilor for the CSU, adding art to the campus walls was one of the projects he wanted to propose. 

Former  CSU coordinators, Shivaane S. and Camina Harrison-Chéry both joined forces with Vaccarella to secure the funding needed to produce the murals. 

Their goal was to feature female and BIPOC artists. “We all wanted the same thing where it focuses on diversity and people you don’t often see at festivals,” said Vaccarella.

Art on campus 

Painted beside the CSU office, Maxilie Martel-Racicot’s mural reflects the artist’s unique style while integrating elements from Concordia’s faculties. Depicted in contrasting shades of colour, the detailed work presents a large group of characters. Their identities are unclear, neither human nor animal. 

Under her artist’s name, Monosourcil, Martel-Racicot created a world of her own in which she mixes sci-fi inspirations with references to everyday life. For the muralist, the themes of coexistence, tolerance, and multiculturalism are always central to her work. “We are all humans, social animals, so it’s this idea that I represent, that we live in a group and in a community in a certain way,” she said.

On the CSU’s Art Nook walls, artist Kezna Dalz (who also goes by Teenadult) replaced the seventh floor’s light grey walls with a creation full of flowers and butterflies. Dalz included the words “art heals” in her work. In the center are two black faces, as the artist aims to include diversity in all her creations. 

With this specific one, Dalz also wanted to create a positive atmosphere in the space. “The faces are tilted upwards, so it’s about being confident, and just feeling good and creating in a space where you are feeling yourself,” she explained.

“People gravitate towards colour,” said former CSU coordinator Shivaane S.. She sees this addition to the Art Nook as a way to make the space even more inspiring for students, and to “cultivate more student-life as well.”

For more public art

This is the first public art initiative to be fully student-led at Concordia. As the University is currently developing a new public art policy, the colourful murals engage a reflection on what art can add to life on campus. The new policy should be delivered this fall and then implemented in winter 2023. 

Even though the project’s organizers have now left the CSU, the initiative is to be continued. A new mural should embellish the ceiling of Loyola’s G-Lounge this winter. 

Loyola’s new CSU coordinator, Sabrina Morena, believes art is meaningful to campus life: “To me, it means that we are not just here to study, we are also here to create a culture of care, and community.” She hopes to have even more murals painted at Concordia this year.


Être ensemble: an art display that reflects on appreciating art rather than consuming advertisements

Zoom Art is a project that recommends people to look up from their mundane routines to discover public artwork

Curator Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette’s Zoom Art Project, presented by Ville de Laval Art Collection, is on display for its third edition until Oct. 16. The theme of this year’s edition is “être ensemble” which loosely translates to “being together. 

The artworks will be accessible until Oct. 16. 

The artworks are presented on astral panels, bus shelters, posters in the Montmorency metro terminus, as well as in light boxes on metro platforms. These works replace advertising, displaying artwork instead of ads. 

“The idea at the beginning was to allow a break from advertising and to have a kind of artistic oasis in the spaces where there usually is something to sell.”

Here, nothing is sold. People are invited “to reflect on their state, to have time for themselves, to be addressed as human beings, not as consumers,” notes Goyer-Ouimette. 

The project was born three years ago, in the midst of the pandemic. Goyer-Ouimette explains that “museums were closed, people had limited access to culture.”

The first edition, curated by Anne-Sophie Michel and Anick Thibault, was organized in less than two months, with a selection of artists whose works were posted in bus shelters and on astral boards. 

Previously, the project served to help emerging artists, but for the second and third editions, pieces were chosen around a specific theme. 

It was important for the curator to find an accessible theme that spoke to a large audience, where people could make links and think about the artworks without having necessarily studied fine arts. She wanted to find a theme around the term “to gather” without explaining it further. 

“With the theme ‘être ensemble,’ contrary to the notion of ‘vivre ensemble’ there is no intent given, it is more of an observation,” Goyer-Ouimette notes.  

“Being together can reach the intimacy of conflicts between people, that it be in love relationships, power relationships, indoctrination, or even very positive ones, such as relationships with a family, or being bored of being together.” The theme is thus reflected in the chosen pieces. 

There are reproductions of artworks put into photography; sometimes they are digitized because they come from real photographs that have been enlarged. 

What is particular about Zoom Art is that “you can discover it by walking around randomly, but you can also discover it by day or by night. The works are very different depending on the time of day,” Goyer-Ouimette said. 

She notes that the project resembles a catalog, but that the result is a display in a public space. 

“One of the crucial steps in producing a catalog is to ensure the quality of the images. We often had to rework the size of the images.” 

In choosing what artworks to represent, Goyer-Ouimette wanted “all the works [to] have a very strong visual appeal. In the bus shelters they contain details that will allow people to reflect,” because they have more time to wait for a bus, whereas in the metro it has to be effective more quickly, so that the piece can convey itself effectively. 

“Often people think that the worst that can happen is that people don’t like art, but the worst is when people don’t see it, don’t identify it as art, simply ignore it.” 

The curator did not want to have to explain what artwork belonged to which artist, so 

the graphic designer selected a color inside each work to write the name of the artist.

“What this does is that we will associate the image with the name without it having to be explained,” Goyer-Ouimette notes. 

Two of the 17 artists, Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane, work in synchronicity. Their work through the project is present on a bus shelter. 

“One draws, and the other adds to it, they are truly working together,” notes Goyer-Ouimette. “It’s a visual folly, the more you look at their work, the more you notice details. The drawing of one leads to the intervention of the other.” 

On the other hand, Rafael Sottolichio’s work — displayed on a highway poster — deals with the theme of family coming out of the pandemic and external family reunions. Such works are a reminder of what we have just experienced throughout the pandemic . 

The artworks intersect with the theme of togetherness through different meanings and mediums. 


What Montreal can learn from art and architecture abroad

Reflecting on the place urban spaces hold within a community

I did not expect art to be the main takeaway from my trip to Singapore and Malaysia this reading week. It’s not that I thought that I wouldn’t see any art, but rather I didn’t think it would be much different from the art in Montreal. I was wrong.

Upon meeting me at Changi airport after my 23-hour flight, my friend immediately dragged me, luggage in tow, to Singapore’s Chinatown for lunch. We exited the metro and a couple of minutes into our walk, stumbled upon Mid-Autumn Festival by Yip Yew Chong. Composed of vibrant reds, oranges and blues, the mural depicts a family feasting on fruits and cakes as lanterns shine above them and children play in the near distance. I was so mesmerized by the colours and overall narrative that I made sure to return after we had eaten, just to be sure I had taken it all in.

In Singapore’s Little India, Cattleland 2 by Eunice Lim comes to life via augmented reality. By scanning a nearby QR code on their phone, the viewer is invited to watch as the cattle roam through the colourful streets of Buffalo Rd. In an interview with SG Magazine, Lim explained that she had spoken to former residents who “gave her their anecdotes of seeing the old street filled with buffaloes running around.”

Glancing up at the commercial buildings and observing the whole of the city, I began to notice the presence of greenery within the architecture and urban spaces. Rooftop terraces are not uncommon throughout Singapore. In fact, the addition of green spaces is part of the country’s goal to become the world’s “greenest city.”

At Gardens by the Bay, infrastructure is purposely built in an effort to increase energy efficiency and visitors are invited to enjoy public art and sculpture all while being outdoors. At night, people can view a temporary installation titled #futuretogether by teamLab collective. Composed of floating egg-shaped lights, viewers’ interaction with the ovoids alter the speed at which they change colours, ultimately, illuminating the bay in bright purple, turquoise, yellow and red.

Along the Melaka River in Malaysia, houses and boutiques are entirely covered in urban art. Each mural pays homage to a different cultural group and their respective histories in Malaysia. The works are unattributed, however, clearly intentional and not to be mistaken for vandalism. As with much of the street art in the rest of Melaka City, a large Chinese influence is present; a cartoon depiction of a guardian lion painted in red hues makes up most of the mural on one residential building. Nearby, murals portray scenes of people dancing in traditional dress.

Reflecting on the art further into my trip, I realized I was not so much enthralled by the artworks themselves, but rather what they represented. It is no secret that Montreal’s street art is not exactly representative of the city’s complex history. To see Singapore, a country with a complicated history and political system, and Malaysia, a developing country, make the effort to get the population to engage within these urban spaces was eye-opening, to say the least.

Montreal’s year-round climate is not quite like the 37 ºC that I basked in for the last two weeks of February. It is understandable that outdoor garden sculptures are not the most feasible public attraction in a city where sub-zero weather lasts for over half of the year. Accurate representation of Montreal’s history, Indigenous population and minority groups, however, definitely does not require an ideal temperature. Montreal, you have some work to do.



Photos by Lorenza Mezzapelle


Happening in and around the white cube this week…

Intro to arts writing 101 with Chloë

First thing: when I say arts writing I don’t mean art criticism. You’re allowed to have an opinion, but keep that out of it, for the most part. Who are we to judge work? Who is anyone to judge work? I don’t care how many years you went to art school for, it’s not your place.

Write about art. Tell its story, tell the artist’s story. Look and listen to what they have to say.  How do they want their name spelled? Any capitals? Make sure. Arts writing has its own quirks.

Writing about art and reporting on art is not the same. Don’t report, it’s boring and impersonal. Get personal. Talk to the artist, get sensitive, ask questions or don’t. Feel out that vibe, observe, react and research.

Take notes, sketch things out, make connections to other artists, to writers, to music, to things you learned in school. Eventually, it all mirrors itself and you’ll be able to start noticing thematic patterns everywhere you go.

Look at everything like it’s a work of art: the city, the skyline, architecture, the way windows expose an interior, how light falls in a space. Who occupies that place? How do they occupy it?

A person’s art is intimate, it’s personal, sometimes it’s a secret. Share your connections with them, sometimes a tit for tat really loosens up a conversation.

It’s important to share your perspective. Otherwise, everything is the way I see it, and that’s not very inclusive is it? We all have our biases, and it’s okay, in arts writing, to use those biases in our favour. Write about something you care about, but demonstrate that without having to use things like “I think” and “In my opinion,” those are for opinion pieces.

Be self-reflexive in the process. How did this work speak to you? Put visual ideas into words. Don’t be too fluffy, be concise. Don’t be as poetic as this text you’re reading right now.

Thank you for reading this all the way through! If you would like to give arts writing a try, email me! If not, well that’s cool too! Thank you for your time and attention.


Happening in and around the White Cube this week…

Hidden sculpture on Mackay & Maisonneuve?

We’re all familiar with the magnificently mesmerizing sculpture outside of the Hall building. If you haven’t stopped to stare at it while it’s moving, I really recommend that you do. But that isn’t what this is about.

On the opposite corner, on Mackay St. and De Maisonneuve Blvd., nestled between the construction and M4 Burrito, is another sculpture, one that I didn’t really know existed until I read the sign covering it, protecting it from the adjacent construction. Although this sculpture doesn’t move, it is home to a clock!

Commissioned by the Bank of Montreal in 1966 to “beautify an air vent” connected to the metro, Claude Théberge’s untitled sculpture completely blends into the environment, even when it isn’t hidden for its own protection.

Théberge also has similar mural-sculptures at De l’Église metro and Viger Square, as well as several other 2D works around the city. All three pieces are made from concrete, which was poured into styrofoam moulds to determine their shape. The slabs are carved with funky geometric designs reminiscent of cubist paintings.

This untitled wall was likely only erected to decorate the surrounding area, which is filled with people bustling to and from the university’s buildings, hardly noticing its presence.

Concordia is home to many such artworks from local artists and alumni, faculty and staff. Among these are Geneviève Cadieux’s metallic leaves on the exterior of JMSB, Holly King’s chromatic print in the tunnel to the EV building from the metro entrance, which is commonly mistaken for a painting, and the bronze busts in the Hall building’s ground floor.

According to Art Public Montréal, public art is intended to be discrete, “affirming their formal, conceptual or temporal characteristics,” and can be found permanently installed outdoors and indoors in common areas, typically in relation to or in contrast with the surrounding environment.

While public art does play a role in decorating the city, and our campus, what’s the point of art that blends in? What then, differentiates public art from good architectural and urban design? 


Outside of the museum: Part two

Montreal and public art, the final segment of a feature story published in two parts

Last week, part one of this story explained how public art was established in the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec.

When questioned about the importance of investments and politics of public art, Pascal Beaudet, project manager at the Ministry of Culture and Communications, said it enables artists to create imposing works. It gives them unequalled experience, as they are offered a great amount of money to create enormous pieces of art. “You don’t start creating monumental 35-feet pieces of art for your backyard,” said Beaudet.

“It brings many things to many people,” said artist Linda Covit about public art. Public pieces make art accessible, because people don’t have to enter museums or galleries to see works of art. How many times have you been to the Montreal Contemporary Art Museum this year? Probably not that many times, especially when compared to the numbers of times you’ve walked by works of contemporary art in the city.

After the screening of the documentary À Tout Hasard, artists took the time to discuss with the public why public art mattered to them. Artist Jean-Robert Drouillard said, due to a lack of contracts last year, he had to spend six months working for artist Marc-Antoine Côté. Public art allows professional artists to work and contribute to the urban planning, said Laurent Vernet, the commissioner of the Montreal Public Art Bureau.

Public art can prompt positive reactions too. Covit said a citizen once wrote to her about one of her pieces in St-Bruno, expressing how happy he was to walk past it everyday. “It really touched me,” said Covit.

A school in Ville Saint-Laurent even used the name one of artist Michel Saulnier’s sculptures to rename the school. He said he still receives reactions about pieces,  inspired by architecture, that have been installed for 25 years. “The work is living,” said Saulnier.

Public art really aims to integrate into the landscape, giving an identity to the location and becoming part of people’s lives. It makes people think and ask questions. For Johanne Sloan, an art history professor at Concordia University, public art makes art less elitist. “It brings art closer to everyday life,” she said. With time, Vernet said, those works of art become intricately attached to their location, using the example of the Melvin Charley sculpture at the Émilie-Gamelin park. “We can’t imagine those places without those works that define them and that give them their identity,” said Vermet.

The Fourth Plinth Project in Trafalgar Square attempts to draw in more interest from the public with it’s temporary art.
Photo from Flickr

Covit, who also created a monumental piece for the MUHC, said it’s important not to forget that the money invested in public art doesn’t go all into the artists’ wallet. For her MUHC sculpture, Le Havre, she had engineers, technicians, manufacturers, painters, electricians and light creators working with her. Those collaborators, and the materials needed for the sculpture, were paid for through the projects building budget. More than just public critics, some art historians also hold negative positions on the subject. Sloan criticized the one per cent decree because it can result in what she considers “bland art.” According to the professor, artists who want to please the public might create pieces that are not upsetting but that are not exciting either. “The more the artwork is triggering conversation, the more successful it is as public art,” said Sloan. Vernet, on the other hand, believes works of public art usually follow the artist’s line of creation and are not created only to please the public.

For Sloan, permanent public art tends to become like a type of furniture in the landscape, always there, which results in people not paying attention to it. Sloan said that other directions could be taken to make the works more interesting to the public. She said  temporary pieces of public art, which could trigger less anger because of their brief appearances, could encourage very interesting conversations. Trafalgar Square in London, for example, had a project called The Fourth Plinth Project, which offered a space for artists to create temporary contemporary sculptures amongst traditional permanent statues. “I think those projects are much more successful,” said Sloan.

To read the feature from beginning to end in its entirety visit


Outside the museum: part one

Montreal and public art, a feature story to be published in three parts.

Public art seems to bring out a lot of negative opinions in our province. So why does the government keep on investing in it?

“You’re not photographing this! It’s fucking ugly,” says a construction worker to artist Michel Saulnier, as he takes a picture of one of his public artworks: a larger-than-life bear, installed right outside the Children’s Hospital at the McGill University Health Centre.

According to the Bureau d’art public, there are more than 315 works of public art displayed around the city of Montreal, and they often elicit strong reactions — be they good or bad. In Suzanne Guy’s documentary on public art in Quebec, À Tout Hasard, artist Jean-Robert Drouillard recalls a moment when a teenage girl saw his life-sized dancer sculpture. “It’s not going to stay here,” she said to the artist, thinking he was a construction worker installing it. People are often shocked when made to look at contemporary art. “A [lesson of] at least notions on how to look at a piece of art, would be needed,” said Pascal Beaudet, project manager at the Ministry of Culture and Communications.

In the summer of 2015, the city of Montreal unveiled La Vélocité des Lieux, a work of public art by collective BGL on the corner of Henri-Bourassa and Pie-IX boulevards. Many people used the launch of this particular piece to express their discontentment with public art. In a Journal de Montréal story announcing the launch of the work, 133 people commented online, and very few had positive opinions. Many questioned why money was spent on public art, considering there were so many cuts to governmental services like health and education. “It’s ugly, too expensive and useless,” said one citizen in the comments. Even if one of the goals of public art is to, among other things, make art more accessible, negative opinions seem to hold more weight for those in the arts.

Why does the government keep investing in public art?

Public art, according to the Canadian Encyclopaedia, is commissioned for a public space where the composition, dimensions and proportions blend into the surroundings. “It’s a way of being directly in contact with art without having to make an effort,” said Beaudet.

When Saulnier was working on his bear cub statue on the MUHC site, a piece named Je suis là,  he experienced first-hand the reactions of having his works of art on display at a public site. Construction workers passing by stopped to comment on how they had asked for more materials and were refused, but that the government paid for an illuminated bear cub. Why is it that healthcare is being subjected to so many cuts, but the government has money for art, some would ask? For Saulnier, those reactions reflect a lack of understanding of the one per cent decree.

The Quebec policy of Integration of Art to Architecture, also known as the one per cent decree, was first established in 1961. With some modifications over the years, it has resulted in an obligation to spend approximately one per cent of the building’s total construction budget on public art. This policy applies to all buildings that receive grants from the government.

The decree promotes art creation and acquisition, advertises the works of Quebec’s artists and allows people all over the province to have access to contemporary art, according to Art Public Montréal.

The process of integrating art into architecture is complex. Beaudet said the integration starts with a file, a sort of bank, which gathers artists according to categories. Professional artists join the file on a voluntary basis, and then two members of the ministry and two visual arts specialists review their applications. There are many requirements that must be met in order to join the file: the artist needs to have Canadian citizenship, to have been living in Quebec for at least 12 months and to have professional artist status. Then, when a building receives a grant, a project manager will go through the construction project to create a committee that will establish the type of artwork to include based on the place and what would appeal to the people that occupy it. A few artists from the file will then be invited to propose a project.

While the ministry takes care of the art in the whole province, the Montreal Public Art Bureau, created in 1989, is responsible for all public art within the city. Laurent Vernet, commissioner of the bureau, said the one per cent decree is managed in Montreal by the bureau, following the ministry process. They also take care of the investments made by the city of Montreal outside of the policy.

Some projects are not included in the one per cent decree, but still receive investments from the city of Montreal. That was the case for La Vélocité des Lieux. The bureau needs to review those investments, making sure they are pertinent and fit correctly within the overall environment of the city. Since investment projects don’t have a predetermined budget, unlike those who qualify under the one per cent decree, the bureau works with comparable projects. Usually, the allotted budget will be of about one or two per cent of the total cost of the building.

This article is part of a long-form feature on public art that will be presented in three parts. Stay tuned for part two, which will appear in our Nov. 15 issue.    

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