Soul of Fernwood expressed through painted poles

>> Shannon K. Auringer

It may seem interesting or ­coincidental to those who simply pass through Fernwood: what’s with all the painted poles? Some people traveling on foot stop to inspect the art, finding the one that intrigues them the most. Fingers big and small reach out, touching the smudges ­created by each deliberate brushstroke. Keen eyes inspect the texture and ­imagine the intent behind the images. Others ­simply smile because it made them happy just to see it.

Imaginations take flight with ideas of who the artists might be and what inspired them to paint that story. With a quick jaunt around each of the skyscraper-like canvases, new doodles can be seen. Some are not so obvious and are a fun treat when discovered. I have heard the whispers of tourists—a term I use ­affectionately when referring to non-Fernwoodians—who ­discuss how fun and funky our ­neighborhood is, with its urban art splashed from border to border. They are right: Fernwood is funky. But is that all that the artwork means?

For me, I see our painted poles as more. They are community-building. One day a year our community gets out there and beauties up an otherwise stale piece of ­necessary hardware. It’s amazing to see people sitting around the poles alone or in groups, putting their creativity out for the world to see. It’s a social day and provides plenty of reason to spark conversation and get to know one’s neighbors.

I see our painted poles as screaming out Fernwood’s identity—we are a vibrant community full of colour and difference. We are an “every person” community, ­tolerant and accepting of our ­neighbours. Our poles include family paintings, dog portraits, political statements, and ­memorial paintings, showing our ­diversity. We have a varied range of talent as well, from amateur and children’s art right down to professional art. Our true colours are splashed all over our village, and we are trendsetters, as well. Other communities are catching on to our idea, as its value is apparent. A handful of painted poles have been noticed in Fairfield and even a few in James Bay.

Our community art project is of course not just confined to one day a year. Late this past March on the corner of Fernwood and Walnut an artist worked ­diligently on her painting for about three days. Later in the day chairs in the yard beside the pole would fill up and a private little pole ­painting party would begin. Friends sat around laughing, having drinks, and ­sharing good times.

Also, back in ­October there was a local resident retouching the colours on their Princess Avenue pole. Passer-byers would stop and chat up the artist with small talk, all the while ­strengthening community bonds.

Creation and art appear to be the lifeblood of our little nook here in Victoria. Each painted pole speaks to an aspect of Fernwood life, while hundreds of naked poles still await their turn. The effort and care that goes into each of these poles—not just to initially paint them, but to upkeep them, as well—not only points to our uniqueness and creative drive, but also to how we each care about our community and each other.


You are invited to join the Fernwood Pole Painting Project

When: Saturday, September 20, 2014 from 10am to 2pm

Where: Fernwood Square & beyond

Free pole painting kits available between September 15 & 19 at 1310 Gladstone Avenue

More info available at: ­