As you can tell from our past work, we love collaboration! When the City of Nanaimo invited us to create an artistic intervention in the downtown core that spoke to our community’s collective experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, we reached out to a fellow artist and wordsmith. Determined to ‘paint a poem’ and embody its essence in the artwork, we enlisted the help of Nanaimo’s past Poet Laureate, Tina Biello to create our foundation. From that poem, the One Song Staircase was born.
One Song – by Tina Biello
sent us all for a time out
stay home, be still.
Watch the humpback whale breach,
oceans empty of tanker traffic,
they can hear each other speak.
Watch the smog lift,
moss grow on the forest floor,
wild roses shoot up in the path.
The yellow bellied marmot wakes in her den
suns herself in the morning light
something is different
the world quieter, the streets empty.
We are 6 feet away,
aching for a hug,
aching for touch.
Until then, we find ways,
zoom and listen and watch,
wait for next steps,
catch a heart on a doorstep,
count them on our street.
At 7:00 pots and pans clang,
heard across the land.
No it’s not the toddler in the kitchen
who found the right drawer.
mom tired, no sleep.
It’s the clang of thank-you:
workers in hospitals, on buses,
at the grocery store
“Artistic interventions like ‘One Song Staircase,’ help us see and experience familiar spaces with new eyes and a fresh perspective,” says Julie Bevan, Nanaimo’s Manager of Culture & Events, “this responsive, collaborative project gives physical presence and acknowledgement to what we’ve collectively been experiencing in different ways over the last months.”
Wikipedia defines placemaking as “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces.” We believe that the art of placemaking uses what already exists in a space and elevates the ordinary into something that creates joy and connection. It reimagines the landscape and embodies the spirit of community. Whether through wall art, ground murals, seating, lighting, or other urban interventions.
“We are constantly on the move, day in day out moving throughout our cities and neighbourhoods by foot, cycling, using transit or driving. Public space is often like a blank canvas, it’s made up of concrete, fencing and other design elements that lack creativity or evoke any real emotion,” says Steve Woolrich, the Principal of ReThink Urban, a Vancouver Island based organization dedicated to improving safety, wellbeing and quality of life in communities.
“Placemaking is a fabulous tool for ensuring that our built environments are compelling spaces where people can truly enjoy connection, be safe and engage with others and their surroundings,” he continued. “Placemaking networks like the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, and companies dedicated to this work have been established throughout the world. These groups and many other community champions are driving change, and like many of us are dedicated to creating vibrant spaces where people can flourish.”
And our collaboration does just that, rehabilitating an unloved and under-utilized urban space that is literally and figuratively a place of transition and connection between The Port Theatre and The Nanaimo Centre for the Arts, which is home to organizations including Nanaimo Art Gallery, Crimson Coast Dance, and Vancouver Island Symphony. We brought community and colour together to create a connection to the cityscape and a shared sense of place.We reimagined the plaza staircase in the heart of Nanaimo’s Arts District with bright colours, phrases of poetry, and design aspects rooted in the auditory essence of Tina’s poem. The feature is definitely the radial soundwave in the centre of the space—created from the audio waves of Lauren’s voice reciting the last phrase of “One Song.” The flowing colour fills where the existing contours in the concrete work intersect and bounce off one another while remaining distant. The staircase itself symbolizes the journey different community members are on right now as we navigate COVID-19 together. This imagery reflects the relationship of folks keeping their distance while finding moments of connectivity.
We also included a custom QR code stencil, something new with our artist signature and signage, to lead viewers to our blog and the full text of Tina’s poem.
In the end, we couldn’t be happier with the piece we unveiled with a small gathering on July 13. These types of installations are really important for connecting the community to the urban spaces we have and love in Nanaimo. One Song Staircase is interactive and experiential. It allows everyone, locals and tourists alike, to feel part of something bigger while remaining physically apart.
Tina Biello is a published poet and was the Poet Laureate for Nanaimo, BC from 2017 -2020. You can find Tina’s latest book ‘Playing Into Silence’ by visiting Caitlin Press.
To learn more about Tina, click here to visit her blog.