by Tara McAndrew
Downtown Kitchener is in the middle of a major transformation. From the rising condos, to restorations of historic buildings, to the addition of the ION light rail transit system and more, it’s almost unrecognizable in some areas. That being said, the artistic heart of Downtown remains steady and is shining brighter than ever thanks to some new additions to Downtown Kitchener’s Art Walk.
How Did it Come Together?
The Downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Association (DTK BIA) and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (KWAG), collaborated to bring a little extra joy to the community during these tough times. Shirley Madill, CEO of the KWAG, and her team selected the local artists and the pieces to feature. Linda Jutzi, Executive Director of the DTK BIA, reached out to business owners to see who would like to spruce up their walls. The art was then printed on vinyl and inserted into 11 new large-frame installations on the outside walls of various buildings.
To add a little extra spark, the art in these frames will be refreshed each year, similar to a gallery that hosts different exhibits.
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Sold Out Opening!
When the Downtown Kitchener Art Walk was launched in September the response was tremendous, despite occurring months into the pandemic! In only 2 hours, 500 printed self-guided Field Guide booklets were snapped up and over 2,200 online versions were downloaded. Hundreds of people soaked up the fall sun in a socially-distanced gallery walk through the city’s core. There was a buzz about the city as people took to the streets, making their way to each piece and stopping to take a look.
If you missed getting a copy of the Field Guide in September, don’t worry. Due to the high demand (who says print is dead?!), a free second edition paper copy of the Field Guide will be available for pick-up at local businesses. An updated map will be included for easier navigation as well.
Why an Art Walk?
Walking is the perfect way to see a city, whether as a tourist in a foreign country or a local resident strolling along familiar streets. It allows people the chance to slow down and notice details they might otherwise miss. It promotes community-building in the simplest of ways: smiling at a passersby, chatting with a neighbour sitting on their porch, or while popping down to a favourite local business for a treat.
In a matter of months, between June and September this year, this project came into being. The inspiration for the art walk was directly related to COVID’s impact. The goal was to create a safe, fun, and inclusive outdoor community activity while supporting local artists and businesses during this difficult time. What better way than a free, year-round art exhibition to explore your backyard?
How Long Has There Been an Art Walk?
Many of the pieces in the art walk have been a part of the downtown fabric for years – some as far back as the early 1900s. The recent launch aims to reintroduce these pieces to the public. You may be surprised at how many you’ve passed by on your daily route. The Downtown Kitchener Art Walk gives the opportunity to get to know the artist and the story behind each sculpture, statue, and mural.
New Walk Every Time
I’ve been fortunate to officially complete this walk twice; once with a fantastic new local tour company, STROLL Walking Tours, and once using the DTK Field Guide. While on a tour with STROLL’s owner Juanita Metzger, I learned about where the encouragement for more street art in Kitchener came from (thank you Pamela Rojas) and was also fortunate to see Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky in action. Talk about an immersive experience!
I especially enjoyed learning about Alapinta’s massive mural in Halls Lane that faces Charles Street. It’s one that I have passed countless times, yet never stopped and took the time to look at. By viewing it at a different angle and farther away, I was able to appreciate the artwork’s details. The heart of the piece, the turtle with the tree growing from its shell, represents Turtle Island and is my favourite to contemplate.
Thanks to the tour and DTK Field Guide, I find myself pausing whenever I pass by our city’s street art. I think about the people who created the many pieces we’ve been gifted and the ideas they wish to share. The growing pops of colour, culture, and creativity decorating our downtown brighten my mood every time.
Over 43 talented artists have shared their talents with Downtown Kitchener, brightening our spaces, giving us pause, and sparking smiles throughout the day. They include: Marilyn Koop, Luke Swinson, Sandy & Steve Pell from PELLVETICA, Michelle Purchase, Amanda Rhodenizer, St. Marie φ Walker, Mélika Hashemi, Soheila Esfahani, Raven Chacon, Tara Cooper, Shawn Johnston & Donna Noah, Ernest Daetwyler, Timothy Schmalz, Brad Golden & Lynne Eichenberg, Ted Fullerton, Nicholas Rees, Nicole Beno, Walter Gibson, Stephanie Scott, Trisha Abe, Allan MacKay, Claire Binnie (Underground Gallery), Tori Ward, Stephanie Boutari, Andrew Thom, Jordan Warmington, The Firm Mural Collective, Lucy Pullen, Shalak Attack, Clandestionsart, Bruno Smoky, Alapinta (Neruda Arts), Chris Austin, Pamela Rojas, Carol Bradley, Meg Harder, Christina Peori, Kate Wilson, August Swinson, and Mono Gonzalez.
Many of them have art in other parts of Waterloo Region, throughout Canada, and around the world. How neat would it be to plan a trip to visit their other works, locally and internationally, when the world opens up?
More Ways to Explore Urban Art in Waterloo Region
If you’re looking for more ways to explore Waterloo Region’s dynamic art scene, check out the Hughes Lane Art Walk, the county-wide Art Fresco project, or Cambridge’s Instagramable Galt Wings. May these gems surprise and delight you, stimulate good conversation, and better acquaint you with Waterloo Region’s artistic side.
Bring DTK Home
In planning, the organizers were cognizant of people’s comfort zones and public health needs. For those who work up an appetite on the art walk and want to support the DTK businesses they find along the way, the BIA suggests either stopping in for a meal (remember your mask!), or ordering food for takeout or curbside pickup to enjoy at home. Whether it’s Vietnamese bánh mì, East African fare, a glassful of fruit or veggies, pupusas, ramen, wood-fired pizza, a Saturday morning trip to the market, or a good ol’ cup of joe, your tastebuds will be bouncing around with all of the flavours to choose from.
Tara McAndrew teaches people how affordable travel really is, how to learn other languages, and where to find the best chocolate around the world. She is currently based in Kitchener creating a very large travel list, thanks to 2020’s shenanigans. She runs the Travel with TMc website, and is on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as @travelwithtmc.