Dynamic Downtown Public Art
Earlier this year in the warmth of the September sun, I wandered through Riversdale and wrote about some of the striking public art pieces in that neighbourhood (read about those pieces here). But my eye was also on nearby artworks in the Downtown area. In this blog, I’ll share just a few of the many pieces of public art found throughout the Downtown area of Saskatoon. If you see a piece of public art you like while you’re out exploring Saskatoon, don’t be afraid to get close to it, take pictures with it, walk around it and check out the different ways the light bounces off of it. Many of these pieces also include plaques that explain a little bit about the artwork. These pieces are made to be respectfully engaged with and provide you with a moment of presence in the busy-ness of downtown life.
One piece that always catches my attention is the massive mural found on the side of the First Nations Bank of Canada on 4th Ave South. It is hard to miss this mural whether you are walking or driving. “Mino Pimatiziwin (A Good Life) - Rise From Water” by Emmanuel Jarus was completed in 2017. As noted on the mural’s plaque: the colours of the four elements of life - yellow, blue, red and white - are weaved throughout the baby’s moss bag and symbolize the spiritual, physical, emotional and mental balance that is necessary to lead a good life. The moss bag is used to keep a baby comfortable and secure, “creating a warm, womb-like environment that makes the baby feel safe and sleep better” (read more about the use of the moss bag here). Jarus includes other important Indigenous symbolism like the red ribbon flowing through the woman’s hair - a reference in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The mural is over nine stories tall and is a partnership between Yellow Quill First Nation, First Nations Bank of Canada, Downtown Saskatoon Business Improvement District and the City of Saskatoon. The contrast between the brightly coloured baby in the moss bag, the family rising out of the blue water and the monotone painted parents demonstrates a hope for the future and the necessity for strength and support.
Another mural that often makes me pause while I’m downtown is the whimsical flower, bird, and portrait mural by Wizwon on 2nd Ave. Wizwon has many murals around the city, usually large portraits, and these murals are often found in the background of many of your favourite instagrammers. When you find a mural you like - be sure to check for an artist signature so that you can find the artist online and support their work. I especially like this one because of the colourful birds that have found their way out of the birdcage. It makes me look lovingly toward the spring even in the darkest, coldest moments of our winters. The actual trees around the piece seem to blend in perfectly with the mural - nicely combining art with nature. Thanks to the bright roses along the bottom of the mural, this piece adds a great lift to the parking lot.
Not far away from the Wizwon mural is a structure called “Visionaries” by artist Leslie Potter. This piece was installed in 1992 at the corner of 21st street and 2nd avenue. The plaque included with the structure states that these “stones are waiting for the world to enter a state of peace”. Perhaps one day they’ll come to life but for now when you walk by them, their stoicism can allow you to reflect on the ways you’re helping to make the world a more peaceful place.
Saskatoon’s riverbank has numerous public art pieces to engage with while you stroll along The Meewasin Trail. A few of my favourites include: “Tribute to Youth”, “Prairie Wind” and “Launch Time”. “Tribute to Youth” was designed by Bill Epp and installed in 1989 to commemorate Saskatoon hosting the Canada Games for the second time. The joyful structure may inspire viewers to imagine themselves rolling and dancing around the greenery or snow that surrounds the piece.
“Prairie Wind” is a favourite piece of many people in the city - for the sun hits it differently throughout the day and it is constantly playing with nature. At night, the LED bulbs in the base of the structure light the poles up with different colours, depending on their changing settings. The structure is also designed so that the poles will move slightly in the wind. The piece features 25 poles that are each 15 meters tall and is located inside the roundabout in front of Remai Modern. The design team of Lee-Koopman Projects from London, England, and Friggstad Downing Henry Architects of Saskatoon were inspired by the wind and abundant grasses that make the prairies so special. It is a perfect combination of the urban and rural aspects that have allowed Saskatoon to develop into a unique prairie city. When you stand close to the structure and look up, you’ll feel like an ant amongst strands of grass. I recommend coming down to the piece while the sun sets to watch the reflection of the sunlight subtly change the colours of the white beams and then stick around to watch the poles light up from the LED bulbs.
“Launch Time” is an eccentric piece that many engage with when they come down to River Landing. It was designed by Mel Bolen, Charley Farrero, Michael Hosaluk and Sean Whalley. The Design Group noted that “the work is evocative and playful, so that perceptions change and curiosity builds as the viewers move around the piece. Launch Time complements other aspects of the River Landing development, helping to make it a unique community space for all to enjoy." Depending on the season and the time of day, the shadows and lighting will provide you with a unique experience each time you wander down to River Landing. Like many public art pieces, they’re multi-functional - they can be a shield from the harsh winter wind, a private place to read a book in the summertime, or a fun photo opportunity for those with a creative impulse!
And finally, on the side of the Persephone Theatre is a neon sign piece called “land of berries”. This piece uses Cree syllabics and was made by “internationally-acclaimed British artist Tony Stallard, in collaboration with Saskatchewan artists Joi Arcand, Joseph Naytowhow and Kenneth T. Williams”. It was installed in 2013. The piece can be enjoyed both in the daytime and nighttime, but my favourite time to view it is during “blue hour” - the period of twilight just before the sun fully sets or rises. The contrast of the vibrant blue sky and the electric red light makes me think of all the tasty berries we are lucky to enjoy on this land.
Even as the weather turns colder, you can bundle up and engage with these pieces or just peek at them from a vehicle while waiting at a traffic light. Don’t forget to look up and around if you find yourself out and about doing some last-minute shopping at Midtown or grabbing a bite at some great Downtown spots like: Spicy Bite, Living Sky Cafe, St. Tropez Bistro, and Ayden Kitchen and Bar.
And if you’re already in the mood for art and happen to be visiting some of the city’s beautiful galleries found Downtown - just remember to also look around for the many public art pieces sprinkled in the area! Please check out websites, social media accounts or contact one of the many downtown galleries to determine their hours and visiting policies during this time: Remai Modern, Collector’s Choice Art Gallery, Darrell Bell Gallery, The Gallery/Art Placement, and BAM Art Gallery.
All photos by Kristen Boyé