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A truly collaborative, creative effort

Residents of Lakeview Harbourside Community prepare an art exhibit currently on display at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

It’s been said that art is the gateway to the soul, and an Oshawa community has bared its soul and more.

The newest exhibit, Hundertwasser meets Oshawa, at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery features a unique collaboration between Kingston-area artist Jeff Mann and the Lakeview Harbourside Community.

It opened on Friday, Sept. 7.

Mann says he has previously worked on a project with local autoworkers.

“I really like the city and the idea of working here again,” he said.

So when he received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to create a community arts project, he approached the Durham Local Housing Corporation in search of a collaborator.

“They mentioned [Lakeview Harbourside Community] would be a good location, so I went with their recommendation,” he says.

Lakeview Harbourside is a regionally-owned social housing community located at Lakeview Park Avenue and Ritson Road South in Oshawa’s south end.

Mann says his idea for the exhibit was influenced by the works of Austrian-born, New Zealand artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser

In 1972, Hundertwasser published a manifest called Your window right – your tree duty.

He prescribed to the belief that architecture should embrace its surrounding natural elements.

“His idea is you should be able to reach as far outside your windows you can and paint that,” he says.

Because the homes in Lakeshore are publicly-owned, the art couldn’t be painted on the actual building.

Instead, Mann encouraged the residents to compose paintings that reflect the idea Hundertwasser was aiming at.

One of the residents who participated in the exhibit was Euphemia Thomas.

“I liked the creative collaboration. It’s a way to bring neighbours together and highlight our area,” Thomas told The Oshawa Express.

In all, nine residents of Lakeview Harbourside participated ranging from children to older adults.

“We had both families and individuals,” she says.

Some of the messages shared through the paintings included aspects residents feel the community needs to thrive, and the diverse heritage and cultural dynamics of the neighbourhood.

Thomas admits Lakeview sometimes suffers from a negative stigma.

“What we are trying to bring across is there is a lot of positives. There are families that are in need of support, but there is a bunch of potential that is just sitting down there,” she says.

It was a bit of a challenge to find willing participants at first.

“It was really difficult to get people on board. They are sceptical,” she says. “They ask, “are you trying to get us to be the face [of the project] but nothing will be produced’?”

But as time passed, Thomas says the project bred a spirit of community.

“It brought a lot of people out of their shell and made our community more supportive,” she says.

The paintings were created using recycled materials and came together in Lakeview Harbourside’s community room, a location Thomas says some residents weren’t even aware of.

“A lot of people didn’t realize this place was accessible to them,” she says.

Plans are already in place to develop more community projects.

“Watch for more positive things to come out of Lakeview Harbourside,” Thomas says proudly.

Mann says he was pleased with the pieces created for the exhibit.

“It’s very chaotic, but that’s the nature of people,” he says.

He is glad it offered a way for Lakeview Harbourside residents to come together and express themselves through art.

“I like to create spaces for other people to create in, so I hope there is a lot more of this type of thing going on.”

Hundertwasser meets Oshawa runs at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery through Sept. 21.