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BIA Bench art encourages people to ‘eat, shop, live, explore’

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The first refurbished art project benches belonging to the Tillsonburg Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) were installed last week – and the rest arrived earlier this week, as well as theme decals.

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Eight benches in total were painted by two visual and media artists selected in a June/July contest open to Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour).

Karlee Slattery, Downtown Tillsonburg BIA’s Events & Marketing co-ordinator, said they planned to place the decals Tuesday, which were created by Oxford County artist Rhonda Franks.

“They look amazing,” said Slattery. “It’s really great because they pull in the BIA colours and it’s all about the theme ‘eat, shop, live, explore’ downtown.”

Franks, an indigenous artist and designer, created her graphic design company, Baseline Creative, in 2010 ‘as a complement to her art, which focuses on the majesty of nature.’ In her artist bio, it says this ‘allows her to express and explore her creativity in a variety of ways, including painting, illustration, and design. The themes Live, Shop, Eat and Explore were represented on four sidewalk decals with the added challenge of each decal containing just one corporate colour. The decals needed to capture the unique, retail, food, and lifestyle opportunities in the charming town of Tillsonburg. Digitally drawn doodles for each theme were arranged to surround stylized type highlighting heritage stops, shopping, and activities such as Turtlefest as well as the rural nature of the area.’

Each of the artists were able to visit Tillsonburg, explore the downtown and ‘live the life,’ said Slattery, and from there they went to work.

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Tillsonburg’s downtown streetscape inspired the art on this BIA bench on Broadway, Tillsonurg. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News)
Tillsonburg’s downtown streetscape inspired the art on this BIA bench on Broadway, Tillsonurg. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News) jpg, TN

Aggie Armstrong was able to use a BIA photo taken from the top of The Town Centre mall to incorporate the streetscape on a white background.

“That’s the one by Pita Pit,” said Slattery.

According to her artist bio, Armstrong was born in Manila, Philippines and moved to London, Ont. when she was 18. She currently resides in Oxford County. ‘Armstrong is a multidisciplinary artist, working primarily with watercolours and acrylics. She merges pigment and fibre arts (embroidery) together, influenced by post impressionism and neo-expressionism which she revisits in her work through the traditional wet-on-wet watercolour techniques with high flow acrylics. Her pieces are blanketed in meaning and symbolism, woven into a new story with a contemporary bend. She delivers her finished works as (an intersectional) feminist voice answering these questions in punchy, brightly coloured images collaging references to various states of female human consciousness.’

This Downtown Tillsonburg BIA bench features art inspired by Turtlefest. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News)
This Downtown Tillsonburg BIA bench features art inspired by Turtlefest. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News) jpg, TN

“When you look at Ray’s (Ray Vidal),” said Slattery, “he used some different spray paints and things like that to layer up and show Turtlefest themes, the Clock Tower and some other iconic pieces from downtown.”

Vidal, based in Mississauga, ‘is a multi-disciplinary fine artist, muralist, musician and educator. He is passionate about bringing people together through art, music, education, mentorship, workshops, and community programming. Currently, he focuses on large-scale murals, commissioned base work and teaching community programs and workshops for children and youth.’

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STEPS Public Art, which helped fund the art project, has an app that shows all of the STEPS art happening across the province and complete artist profiles.

“The moment our (BIA) beautification team unloaded them from the trailer and set them on the street, people were sitting on them,” said Slattery. “So people are enjoying them. It’s great because it gives an opportunity to stop, take in the scenes and rest a little. So it helps with accessibility in being able to explore throughout downtown.”

The benches will be located in the downtown along Broadway, or sidestreets like Ridout or Bridge streets, creating an ‘art path from one end of the core to the other.’

“We want to make sure people know that Downtown Tillsonburg isn’t just Broadway but also the sidestreets,” said Slattery. “And there’s lots of shops and patios and things to explore along the sidestreets too.”

The refurbished benches, along with the high profile seasonal downtown flower planters (done in conjunction with Tillsonburg Horticultural Society and Tillsonburg Garden Gate), and the numerous town trees all add up to an attractive downtown area.

The planters on Broadway, Tillsonburg, have a yellow theme this year. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News)
The planters on Broadway, Tillsonburg, have a yellow theme this year. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News) jpg, TN

The BIA also contributes with its street clean-up and beautification team.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the Multi-Service Centre. They have some amazing programs that have placed students and adults with us. So through the summer we had support, but we also have support through the rest of the year that will help us continue keeping that high level of cleanliness and making it a welcoming space for people.

“They’re not just a beautification team, they are also ambassadors for the BIA. That’s why the shirts might say ‘ask me where to eat’ and things like that. It’s sort of playful, but it’s about getting people to have conversations with our team… and understand what the BIA is and what we are actually here for, which is the beautification and promotion of the downtown core.”

cabbott@postmedia.com

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