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City art project spruces up rail bridges, traffic boxes
July 10, 2014
Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

An effort to engage residents in community art by turning Markham’s dreary concrete bridges and bland traffic boxes into vibrant, beautiful masterpieces has produced several new works of art.

On Henderson Avenue, under the CN rail tracks, there is a new mural, unveiled in May. The Henderson Bridge Mural was commissioned by the Varley Art Gallery, and the five local artists spent more than 150 hours each on the piece.

The mural incorporates Ontario landscapes and classic Canadian images, such as the Canada Goose.

“We took elements from the neighbourhood itself,” mural artist Robin Hesse said. “The community is very important in public art. The project should reflect the area. This area had beautiful cedar and birch trees, lots of trees, and sunlight. The sunlight was very important.”

“Nature is very, very beautiful in that neighbourhood, so we used the idea of nature to beautify the grey bridge,” Hesse said.

The traffic box wraps are the second half of Markham’s push to incorporate public art into residents’ everyday lives. The artists have transformed the traffic control boxes around prominent intersections into colourful, vibrant depictions of wildlife found in the city.

The traffic box wrap unveiled in May at the Markham Civic Centre (Town Centre Boulevard and Cox Boulevard) features a brightly coloured turtle cruising down a stream, an amusing merge sign clearly visible in the background.

Forge Collective, the team of Canadian artists commissioned by the city, have redecorated a total of nine traffic boxes in Markham with local animals, including turtles, rabbits, squirrels and foxes.

“Traffic control boxes, which house traffic light operating systems, are a necessary part of our streetscape,” said Diane Samek, senior advisor of marketing and communications for the city.

“These boxes are also targets for graffiti writers. Wrapping them in whimsical graphic art eliminates the available ‘canvass’ for graffiti writers, as the vinyl wrap material is resistant to paint, and gives the box the secondary function of bringing colour and creativity to the street.”

The new installations of public art are a reminder to Markham residents of the importance of nature and artistic culture, and their permeating presence even in suburban life.

“I find public art in any locale valuable,” said Susan Weisz, one of the mural artists. “It enhances the community, stimulates discussion with the residents, and fosters a sense of community and helping. People want to care for their community, and seeing beauty in their community, they will take more pride in and care of it.”

“It’s not just about beautifying the neighbourhood,” said Katharine Harvey, mentor to the artists. “It’s very important to enliven the community, to give back to the community and enrich the neighbourhood with a sensibility for art.”