Jasmine Crescent art project looks to make connections in troubled neighbourhood

By: Sandra Abma, CBC News

Set beneath the highrises of Jasmine Crescent, next to the food bank, a series of sculptures fashioned from fallen tree branches, feathers, beads and Christmas lights stand as a fragile sign of welcome and hope in a community plagued by crime.

In the last three years, the east Ottawa street has been the scene of three homicides, several shootings and a number of stabbings — all of which have created an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

There's now hope, however, that the community will benefit from an arts program that encourages collaboration and creativity.

It's called Art Place, an arrangement that brings artists to the community, and it's managed by the AOE Arts Council.

"When a neighbourhood is struck by violent acts, it gets characterized [as violent] right away" said artist Marc Walter, pointing to the clutter of for sale and for rent signs that line the area.

"But when you talk to people here, they have a regular life, like you and me."

The sculptures are Walter's concept. He's an artist who works with natural materials. But it took many hands, from many different backgrounds, to assemble the elaborate, whimsical creations.

"We had people of all ages, families, immigrants, adults and smaller kids," said Walter. "Many who came to help were people using the food bank."

A volunteer with the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard pitched in the Christmas lights, in order to create a warm and bright welcome for those lining up in the cold winter night for food.

Many who helped build the sculptures were recent immigrants who stopped to chat, cut a ribbon, or attach a feather to a branch.

"It created more of a community sense, a place for conversation," said Erin O'Manique, the food bank's executive director.

"It created a more welcoming atmosphere for people who need to come here for food."

The artist-in-residence program involves the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre and the Jasmine Crescent Safety Committee, and its goal is to give the community something positive to work on together.

"Through art, there are windows of opportunities to create conversations," said Walter. "And if in society we could have more of those little windows, I think it would be great."

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