Western’s McIntosh Gallery is collaborating with local ceramic artist Susan Day and Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) to create a community mosaic mural at London, Ont.’s new supervised drug treatment site. The artwork will grace the front wall of RHAC’s Carepoint Consumption and Treatment Service, Ontario’s first officially sanctioned temporary site for people to use their drugs safely and seek services for recovery.
The partnership was announced at Day’s London studio by acting McIntosh Gallery director Catherine Elliot Shaw and RHAC’s director of Carepoint Harm Reduction Services Sonja Burke.
“McIntosh Gallery is delighted to partner in this important initiative, and to continue our longstanding tradition and focus on supporting projects in the community,” Elliot Shaw said.
The origins of the project go back to 2020, when former McIntosh Gallery director the late James Patten commissioned Day to design and create the ceramic mural, which will be displayed at the entrance of the new Carepoint building, opening next month at 446 York St.
“Community projects were always near and dear to James,” Elliot Shaw said. “He saw them as an opportunity to either bring the public on to campus or to go create those kinds of connections between Western and the greater artistic community of London.”
Creating art, cultivating connection
The mosaic mural will comprise hundreds of ceramic handmade tiles created in a series of workshops led by Day. Workshop participants will include community members with lived experience with substance use and people from other marginalized groups, including new Canadians, persons identifying with disabilities and Indigenous youth.
“My hope is these individuals can walk past an installation they were part of making and feel that wall or walkway belongs to them,” Day said.
As an established and respected ceramic artist, Day brings extensive experience installing substantial public art pieces. The forthcoming installation will be her eighth for London. Some of her earlier work can be seen on way-finding mosaic murals in London’s Old East Village and as part of the Canada 150 Public Mosaics on the mural outside London Clay Art Centre.
“I’m really honoured to engage with the community to do this work,” she said. “It has invigorated my art practice and transformed my life and how I see myself.”
Acting as “the conductor” while community members create the components for the large-scale vision of her artwork, Day says “the real magic is in the workshops.”
“The human connections made in the tile-making is where the real beauty lies. There’s a commonality that levels the playing field and softens the edges.”
The mission behind the mural is to help address the stigma surrounding substance use and mark the community’s commitment to recognizing, valuing and safeguarding the lives and well-being of people who use substances.
According to Burke, Carepoint has supported 78,166 visits, 3,775 people and reversed 713 overdoses since it launched its temporary location in February 2018.
She sees the mural as a visual representation of a caring community.
“This art project will pay tribute to those we have lost to overdose, and the individuals accessing the program, as well as the frontline staff, supportive Londoners, community leaders and partners who have contributed to bringing awareness to the injustice of the opioid crisis, toxic drug supply and the ongoing stigma attached to addiction,” Burke said.
The mural will be unveiled at the end of the summer.