If you’ve walked around Memorial University’s campus over the past year, you might’ve noticed a bright and ever-changing addition to the landscape.
Street art holds a prominent place in many cities around the country. Through their Street Art Wall, Memorial is providing another venue for this diverse and dynamic art form, giving various artists a chance to showcase their skills and express themselves in a creative and colourful way.
The project, an initiative of Memorial’s beautification committee, was launched in the spring of 2022 with the aim to beautify the St. John’s campus, support artistic expression and stimulate innovation, and contribute to a greater sense of place, among other goals. The wall is located between Macpherson College and Memorial’s Childcare Centre and faces Burton’s Pond.
“This is the first time that there’s been a legal street art wall on any campus in Canada,” says Matthew Hills, Director/Curator of the Grenfell Art Gallery at Memorial’s Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.
“It’s something that various municipal arts councils have done to create a space for street artists and to bring some vitality to public art…and for us, it was creating a forum for expression and inclusiveness on campus.” (The Paint Shop in St. John’s, who has been “very encouraging and positive,” Hills adds, has supported the project by providing materials for the artists.)
Before the official launch of the project, the committee released a call for expressions of interest for temporary murals and received a variety of submissions. The first commissioned piece, titled “Shadows of an Epoch: They Were Wolves,” was painted by artist Marie-Soleil (Sunny) Provençal and was inspired by her drawings of the extinct Newfoundland Wolf (based on a stuffed specimen at The Rooms in St. John’s) and the endangered Labrador Wolf (based on a mounted specimen at the Corner Brook Museum and Archives).
Since then, Provençal’s piece has been painted over by commissioned artist Josh Whalen (a graduate of Grenfell’s School of Fine Arts), whose mural was later replaced by another commissioned piece from Marcus Gosse (created for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation). The ephemeral nature of the artworks means the canvas is always changing, encouraging observers to make return visits to the wall to see what other artists in the community are creating.
“I think each of those muralists did an incredible job of activating the wall and doing a mural in different contexts. When you look at Marcus Gosse’s project…he had more people, more media coverage, engaging with the work than he’s used to, and he was really excited about that,” Hills says.
“I think with Josh Whalen’s piece, it was a bridge between street art and more contemporary art. He has the formal training from Memorial and the School of Fine Arts, but he was bringing his street art sensibility, which in a lot of ways pushed back against that formal training,” he adds.
Speaking of Provençal’s mural specifically and the temporary nature of the work in general, Hills says “It’s always been an understanding that these were temporary commissions and that they can be painted over at any point or, particularly in Sunny’s case, that they could be interacted with – that the wolves could be painted on, or painted into, or responded to. So that was part of the idea of the project.”
“We’ve been thrilled with that work and the kind of engagement that’s happened.”
He’s also been pleased with the feedback from the Memorial community, the community at large, and the artists themselves and hopes that the project will have a lasting impact. Looking back at the initial launch event, “Some of the high school students that walked through on the way to Gonzaga, some of the parents at the childcare centre, they really appreciated the vitality of it, the different colours and the different ideas that were at play. Some of the feedback we got initially was how much that spoke to Memorial’s connection to community,” Hills recalls.
“This provides a sort of dynamic space for art and expression.”