Friday, August 19, 2011

Reading the Righting on the Wall

Reading the Righting on the Wall
By Tom Wachunas

These days I keep wondering when or if we’ll ever see some real football action in our arts district – as in public art works about professional football. This is not necessarily to say I pine for the day. In any case, local media seems to have been largely silent on the subject since Robb Hankins, president and CEO of ArtsinStark, proposed back in 2009 “jaw-dropping” football-themed art works to adorn downtown Canton. So I wait with bated and baited breath.

Meanwhile, there is for our edification yet a new downtown mural by BZTAT – Vicki Boatright – that has been recently installed on the south-facing brick wall of the Imperial Room at 420 Court Avenue NW. While the mural isn’t a ‘jaw-dropping’ example of sheer physical monumentality, or dramatic trompe l’oeil sensationalism, there is a clearly head-and-heart-raising message behind this warm image of a smiling child flanked by a dog and cat. Boatright’s well-known passion for rescuing and caring for domestic pets is still vibrantly apparent, but here she draws deeper attention to the human element.

Called “Safe Animals Safe Kids,” the 12’ x 8’ painting is part of Boatright’s ongoing “Okey’s Promise: Art for a Cause” project, named for a rescued cat. As indicated on the panel below the painting, the artist wants to awaken our consciousness to the link between mistreatment of animals and child/domestic abuse. Her formal aesthetic remains consistent with past work, giving her contemporary pop compositions a decidedly commercial pizazz that looks part photo-shop manipulation, part paint-by-number segmenting. Add to that the neon-bright character of her palette, and the net effect is one of electric optimism.

While the idea that abused pets can bring to mind real and jarring scenarios of domestic violence, Boatright has wisely eschewed painting a mawkish visual narrative of darker realities for large-scale public viewing, presenting instead an uplifting symbol of hope to right a pervasive societal wrong. And in the ethos of public art, there is certainly a place for works that are positive calls to be aware of - and pro-active in - addressing social ills.

Beyond that, and with great respect for BZTAT’s commendable vision - her new mural brings me back to wondering about the state of public art works as it stands now in downtown Canton. This particular piece is her third in a two-block area. A small handful of other local artists’ larger works similarly dot the downtown landscape. Over-saturation? Time will tell. I’m simply hoping that our concept of public installations by local artists doesn’t become so insular as to suggest that the arts district – which should benefit the many (artists and public alike) - doesn’t become too personal a creative playground for the few.

For information about BZTAT’s work, and OKEY’S PROMISE, visit her web sites at
and Photo courtesy BZTAT.


Unknown said...

And what would be wrong if Canton's Arts District did become a personal, creative playground for the few, if others remained in the shadows? At least something would be brightening up a previously dull downtown.

It is not like others do not have the same opportunities available to them. Those who have taken advantage of the opportunity to use Canton's downtown as a canvas are not to blame for the lack of entrepreneurship of others.

Tom Wachunas said...

If there's a lack of entrepreneurship here in terms of public art installations, it's most probably on the part of our municipal planners and promoters. How about actively seeking out accomplished artists from outside the region to grace our town with their public visions? Where is it written that Canton walls are strictly for Canton artists?

Unknown said...

Not written anywhere, and I believe that there is a place for local and other art. But ya gotta start somewhere.