Why She’s a Top 40: For harnessing the power of art to revitalize Alberta Avenue
Christy Morin never thought there would be “squelchers” – neighbourhood folks who were down on all the artists moving into homes and creating studios around her 118th Avenue neighbourhood, where she and her family have lived for the past 15 years. It was a kick in the gut. Morin thought the inflow of art was sparking life and injecting spirit into the place, which has lost its identity over time and become a struggling community with high levels of poverty.
As a community leader, she has created events and spaces to encourage that rejuvenating spark. But “the squelchers were concerned that change is coming, and it’s not controlled in their environment,” says Morin. “The arts are very grassroots, very uncontrolled, and can happen any time,” she adds with a smile. “The squelchers aren’t going to stop it. This is much bigger than that.”
How exactly have the arts spurred change? For the Kaleido Family Arts Festival, which offers film, dance, theatre, visual and literary arts and an arts market on Alberta Avenue, Morin scouted out owners of vacant buildings on the avenue, asking permission to use the sites as venues. “We’d paint them; we had a group of reservists living in the neighbourhood who came in and did all the electrical and plumbing. It was amazing,” she enthuses. Another project called the Bloom’n Garden Show and Art Sale, prompted by the atrocious state of the area’s alleys, brought experienced neighbourhood gardeners together with newbies for a horticultural education day, all in a festive atmosphere.
Morin’s latest thrust is to collaborate with the city and other levels of government tocreate more permanent arts spaces on the avenue, possibly by buying buildings with the help of grants and investors before real estate becomes too expensive as the avenue improves. “What’s happened historically is artists come, inhabit a neighbourhood and create change, then they’re moved out,” she explains. “We need to be strategic in purchasing buildings [and houses] , so we can call it home in 15 or 20 years.”
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Of course, artists alone don’t turn a neighbourhood from a detour to a destination: “We need more cool, funky businesses – boutiques, ice cream shops,” she says. “I’d love to see a true Montreal bagel shop move onto the avenue.”