Children play in a water park near an art installation at Lansdowne Park Tuesday August 04, 2015. The city has recently put up signs setting out the boundaries where people can and cannot play . (Darren Brown/Ottawa Citizen)
Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen
First, people were unclear about where they could park their cars at Lansdowne Park. Now, it’s unclear where their kids can splash around.
Barely a week after a new water plaza opened in the urban park, signs posted by the City of Ottawa last Friday appear to place part of the plaza off-limits for play.
The four signs seem unambiguous. Using directional arrows for emphasis, they admonish visitors to steer clear of the portions of the water plaza near Uplift, artist Jill Anholt’s granite and brushed stainless steel sculpture.
“Jill Anholt artwork,” they read. “Please stay off.”
They also use words and arrows to indicate the area of the water plaza where play is permitted.
Based on the signs’ placement, that would seem to exclude eight of 55 water jets designed to encourage play by children and adults as well as a lower pool where “visitors can sit and cool their feet,” as the city stated in a July 25 press release announcing the new water plaza.
But according to a city spokesperson, the signs have more to do with “way-finding” than prohibiting anything.
“They’re just advising people to not play directly on that central art piece,” said a city media relations officer, who said her statements should be attributed to Léo Morissette, the city’s assistant general manager of parks, recreation and cultural services.
“They’re not demarking any kind of forbidden area where people aren’t allowed to go,” she said. “That area of the water plaza is still open to anyone who cares to go and enjoy it.”
Earlier, in an email, Morissette said “directional signs around the water plaza serve to inform the public where the play area and the artwork are located.”
“Security guards have been informing parents about the area since this is a new feature at Lansdowne Park,” he continued, adding there was no incident that prompted the use of the signs or security guards.
Reached at her Vancouver studio, artist Jill Anholt said safety concerns have arisen since the water plaza opened late last month.
“We do want to make sure everything’s safe for everyone,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s not slippery and that sort of stuff, so we’re working to address those things.
Anholt said she’s working with Vancouver’s Philips Farevaag Smallenberg (PFS) Studio, which designed the portion of the water plaza with the jets, to make both the sculpture and the plaza “more child-friendly.”
“We opened the plaza quite quickly, and we have a few things we need to address,” she said.
She said the section of the water plaza with the jets was always meant to be the main play area. Anholt and PFS Studio worked together to integrate the two elements of the plaza.
“We’d always imagined that people would engage somewhat with the art, but we didn’t anticipate that it would have quite the draw that it has had. We thought most of the kids would be more interested in the jets.”
Once the needed “adjustments” are made, Anholt hopes the water areas around her sculpture will be accessible to children and adults.
“That would be ideal,” she said. “That’s what we’d hoped for, but I can’t really comment on that.”
As well as Uplift, Anholt designed Moving Surfaces, another art installation in Lansdowne’s urban park. The two art pieces cost $4 million, nearly 10 per cent of urban park’s total development budget of $44 million.