February 22-25th I’ll be participating in the Window Art Project (see an earlier RUE post on vacant spaces here) in downtown Regina. What is the Window Art Project? The Overview from our work book provides this encapsulation:
Window Art is a collaboration between Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, Regina Urban Ecology, and the U of R Arts CARES program.
The project will walk students through workshops focused on assessing ideas and ways to activate vacant storefronts Downtown by engaging property owners and community members and inviting them to participate in a dialogue about window art.
Four University of Regina Arts students from the Arts CARES program running this week are participating in the project. Arts CARES is a community engagement program within the Faculty of Arts’ Community Research Unit. Andrew and Jess, representatives from the Faculty of Arts, also joined us for part of the day. Leading the discussion was Jessica Corbeil of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District.
We spent much of the first day discussing the downtown in general; what we liked and what could be improved. After introductions and a review of the project the group left the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District’s offices and conducted an on-site street audit of the prospective store fronts. The cold weather forced us inside to use the ped-way system for part of our journey. After the street audit, we reconvened at the office to discuss our impressions of downtown along with the opportunities and challenges of each storefront.
The first candidate storefront was the Yaeger Block, on 11th avenue. Just a few metres West was the second storefront, the Somerset Block on the corner of 11th Avenue and Smith Street. The East corner of the Cornwall Office Building, near the Scarth Street entrance to the Cornwall Centre, was the third stop. On our way to our last stop we looked at the potential of the Traveller’s Building (picture below) for active transformation. The last location, just South of the Traveller’s Building, was the small space at 1853 Broad Street.
Our chilly walk fostered a good exchange of impressions and ideas about downtown Regina. Participants articulated the empty, uninhabited feeling of certain parts of the downtown. Scarth Street was mentioned as an active corridor day and night, along with Victoria Park. The West side of 11th Avenue was an area that felt unsafe and empty.
Some of the opportunities mentioned for the spaces included event or festival locations (Nuit Blanche and Hallowe’en Haunted Houses were two examples). Another use was as lecture or meeting space, like a pop-up forum. The windows could showcase locally designed clothing and jewelry pieces, to promote Regina designers. Visual artists could be featured in a similar way, with a monthly rotation to keep things fresh.
The challenges centred around incentives for property owners and pedestrians to interact with these spaces. Owners may be more inclined to host window projects if they received tax incentives from the city. Generally, the projects may not get the desired amount of attention without an increase in foot traffic.
Wednesday the group will be going on site, meeting property owners, artists, designers and taking a closer look at the selected buildings.