Mile End’s manhole covers: the mystery is solved!

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Last month I asked if anyone knew who was painting the manhole covers of Mile End. Slowly but surely, readers started offering some leads. One mentioned that she had heard the artist being interviewed on CBC Radio, but couldn’t remember which show; another suggested that it might have to do with an arts collective that has recently established itself in the neighbourhood. Sure enough, this week brought with it confirmation that a Dutch artist named Franck Bragigand was responsible for the manhole covers, in a project realized by DARE-DARE, the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in Montreal and Montreal’s municipal electrical commission.

DARE-DARE, it turns out, is responsible for a slough of innovative public art in Montreal. I’ve noticed many of them before, but simply assumed they were unsanctioned street art, not art created with the blessing of the city’s authorities. One project, funded by the provincial government, had the artist Karen Spencer describe her dreams on cardboard, in English, French and Spanish, for an entire year. She then mounted the cryptic cardboard passages on walls around the city. I came across one last winter that read: “I dreamed I criticized J.J. for falling improperly.” Another sign began with the inscription, “Soñé que mis dientes estaban wen mi boca” — “I dreamed my teeth were falling out of my mouth.”

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DARE-DARE is headquartered in what has come to be called the Park With No Name, an vacant patch of greenery next to the Van Horne Viaduct at the corner of Clark and Arcade. In true Montreal fashion, the group is not just bilingual, but trilingual — it seems that, for many organizations, Spanish has become Montreal’s de facto third language, perhaps to ease the tension between French and English — and it has hosted some pretty swell get-togethers at its Mile End home, including two big outdoor dance parties in June. A wood-fired pizza oven has even been built in the Park With No Name, ostensibly for community use, but, as Micha wrote last month, conflict with the city has restricted its use and might even see the oven demolished altogether.

What strikes me most about DARE-DARE is that its street art has been created with more or less full acceptance by City Hall (the pizza oven debacle notwithstanding) indicating that there is some openness towards innovative forms of public art among the bureaucrats and the politicians. At the same time, though, the city’s official relationship with graffiti, the grandfather of all street art, continues to deteriorate. As Kate McDonnell points out over at the City Weblog, Montreal isn’t getting any less bourgeois. So what gives?

All photos courtesy DARE-DARE.

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