Whose community is it anyways? Art installation in Hamilton swiftly removed and rebuked

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“Sadly, our art installation for tonight’s artcrawl was taken down! The Police, the Forestry dept and City council all somehow got involved!!! We’ll let you know if we need you to bail us out of jail ;)” – this intriguing Facebook post last night from my friend Paul Sousa led to the following  text chat interview below, and allowed me to discover that unless you pay for advertising, everything else is dangerous.

Hamilton, Ontario 5/14/2011

Chris Healey: Hi Paul – thanks for being on the ArtListPro live text daytime TV show.

Paul Sousa: Thanks for having me

CH: I understand from last night that you and your partner Paul have been working on a “street sign” project. Can you describe what they look like and where you put them.

PS: The signs are made to mimic regular street signs but with a very sarcastic edge.

They are designed in Illustrator and were printed on metal panels with a reflective sheen. We placed them on some trees lining James Street North and Cannon Street for last night’s art crawl.

CH: “always read the fine print”, they say! Cannon street is kinda like a highway – 4 or 5 lanes. Seems odd to have in a dense urban neighbourhood but many of the streets in Hamilton are like that.

PS: You hit the nail on the head! That is exactly what the signs are addressing.

CH: i would be surprised if any motorists slowed down enough to notice them. what were some of the words and images on the sign?

PS: You may as well give Cannon street a highway number and off-ramps.

CH: “The Queen’s Cannon”

PS: We decided that the signs would not be directed to the motorists because the wouldn’t notice or appreciate them so we angled them for pedestrians for more of a bang

A bang is certainly what we got

CH: perhaps before someone times a j-way…

PS: The most controversial sign depicted a mother, stroller and bird about to be run down by a tractor trailer. It said “Pedestrian and other urban debris may obstruct your need to speed”

CH: that seems like an accurate still-life of daily downtown pedestrian terror.

PS: Obviously ironic not meant as a “hate crime” against pedestrians as was oddly enough taken by some who complained

CH: they’ve spent three seconds contemplating it before feeling resentful at being “tricked” I imagine.

so there was a complaint? I understand many levels of government, authorities and citizenry got involved immediately.

PS: They obviously did not take the time to scratch under the surface…

CH: they love their cars very much. and believe art should be in things like Disney’s “Cars II” (out in theatres now).

PS: Their immediate reaction was that some g20 hooligan anarchist has targeted our community!

CH: do you dress in black?

PS: Apparently I do and I wear sunglasses to hide my eyes too according to the security video footage anyway

CH: are you Tonto or the Lone Ranger?

PS: It was such a sneaky operation that I even drove up with my mother-in-law’s car in plain sight of the cameras to do it

CH: you might end up as a training video for future g20 security training

PS: First thing in the morning calls were made to Forestry, the police, the councilors office and by-law to deal with these transgressions! Miraculously the situation was dealt with in less than a couple of hours. I’ve never had that turn-around with city ever!

I’ve got a few tricks to show g20 security for sure!

CH: what would you call this kind of community intervention practice – activist art? guerilla art?

PS: Actually I see it as community activism…

Standing up for pedestrian issues

I’m Chair of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association and traffic issues like this is one of the top issues in our neighbourhood.

And we see this as a priority that needs to be addressed

CH: Well it sounded like it was quite effective at getting attention – I hope you are planning more, if slightly adjusted, community activism of this sort. any plans for another series?

PS: We definitely have other signs in the works… Probably won’t be posting them on trees but we’ll definitely get the out there! A number of galleries have already offered to provide a more legit place for them

CH: I offer my livingroom wall.

PS: Yesterday’s drama got the signs more attention than I could have asked for and I think it was for the best.

CH: Paul Sousa, thank you very much.

PS: You’re welcome.


  1. Marshall Burson · May 16, 2011

    “Cannon street is kinda like a highway – 4 or 5 lanes. Seems odd to have in a dense urban neighbourhood but many of the streets in Hamilton are like that.”

    Most of Cannon is four lanes wide, but half of Cannon is no different than James Street: two-way, two lanes each direction from Sherman to Britannia. The other half is a collector route, connecting the north end industrial sector to the 403, a path that is in some cases the most direct (and in other cases the only option – such as when the Skyway is closed).

    The other love-to-hate streets – King and Main – are also partly two-way. Unlike Cannon, however, they are actually highways, in whole or in part.

    HWY 8: “King Street is a Lower City arterial road in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, also known as Highway 8.”

    HWY 2: The most historic highway in the Ontario, it was the first highway built under what is now the MTO and the first to span the province, with a route that stretched from from Detroit to Montreal. Local components are Ancaster’s Wilson Street, Main Street, Paradise Rd., King Street, Dundurn Street, York Boulevard and onward to Burlington’s Plains Road, King Road, North Shore Boulevard and Lake Shore Road, through to Toronto.

    I understand why neighbours would be focused on the missing half of the glass but it remains to be said that this phenomenon is not entirely negative. The depressive effects on local real estate is part of the dynamic that has made the James North and 270 Sherman experiments feasible, and which make it possible for low- and fixed-income people to live in close proximity to downtown, rather than in a treeless, toxic industrial ghetto far from social services and other amenities.More obviously, the traffic situation predates most of the home and business ownership along the one-way route. Surely even the most half-hearted attempt at due diligence would have alerted buyers/renters/residents/businesses to the presence of a four-lane, one-way collector road frequently used by transport trucks.

  2. Marshall Burson · May 18, 2011

    BTW, if you take the time to scratch under the surface…

    West of James, the right-hand lane of Cannon is on-street parking, so it effectively becomes a three-lane street:

    This is generally true of the stretch between James and Sherman, where the right-hand lane of Cannon is on-street parking by short-term/loading only signs or parking meters:

    …or prone to bus stops:

    Because the left-hand lane is prone to southbound traffic, this basically means that at Cannon and James, all through traffic is typically funnelled into the middle two lanes:

    The one-way stretch of Cannon only widens to five lanes as in the final block of its approach to York Boulevard and the tangle of traffic options. Two of those lanes are for turns southbound to Caroline or Queen, and the right-hand lane is prone to bus stops, so again, the through traffic is herded into the middle two lanes.

    The street could use some infrastructure spending, which makes the heavier traffic noisy, and lowering the speed limit would make the street more pedestrian-friendly, but the reality of Cannon Street is different than this admittedly clever protest suggests.

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