Spotlight: A Mural for Milton with JR Marr and Pflag Halton
Welcome to the fourth in a series of profiles on the winners of this year’s Spotlight Recognition Program. This week, we’re looking at the winner of the People’s Choice Spotlight, which was awarded to a program selected by the general public for its overall contribution to the Ontario Culture Days festival.
This year’s winner brought a splash of colour to the Milton community, with a mural by JR Marr. The project was coordinated by Arts Milton’s Kaitlyn Patience and Pflag Halton.
Ontario Culture Days’ Lauren Eisen chatted with artist JR Marr, as well as Pflag Halton’s Whitney Ross and Taylor Henderson, about the inspiration behind the mural, and the role of public art in isolated times.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and the work that you do?
JR: In terms of my art, I work in a lot of different mediums: paper, paint, spray paint, and clay. I definitely like clean lines and the mathematical part of making. If you saw my entire house right now, you’d see that there’s lot’s of colour – it’s everywhere!
Pflag: Pflag Halton is a local chapter of the national Pflag Canada organization that provides peer-to-peer support to LGBTQ2S+ individuals and families. We strive to provide education and affirmation to LGBTQ2S+ individuals and their loved ones in our community, hosting monthly support meetings where community members and/or their loved ones can get together to connect, ask questions, seek advice, and affirmation.
Q: We’re so excited to feature your mural as part of our Ontario Culture Days People’s Choice Spotlight! Can you tell me about the project and the inspiration behind it?
Pflag: The mural for us was very much an extension of our goal to promote visibility and representation in the Halton Region. We have long wanted to have some visible markers of inclusion and pride within Milton and were thrilled to collaborate with Arts Milton and JR Marr to bring such a powerful project to fruition.
JR: I thought about what Arts Milton and Pflag Halton had envisioned, and I came up with an idea. I tried to incorporate what Pflag stands for, while mixing in some creative elements that you may not expect – the shapes and the layout of the squares and triangles are based on Super Mario Brothers, believe it or not! I was also thinking about sunsets and how the pastels worked with darker tones.
Q: What was it like producing the mural in front of a live audience?
JR: I am definitely not used to painting in front of a group, and I usually need space for quiet concentration. So initially, I was a little anxious about that part of it, but people dropped by and were so loving! They just wanted to show their support by talking about the piece and what a beautiful day it was outside. In the context of COVID-19, it was actually really nice to get out and speak to people.
Pflag: Being on-site with JR and engaging with the residents of Milton as they stopped by to see the work was such a highlight. Individuals would stop and ask questions, and it was so motivating and encouraging to hear the responses from community members when they heard what the mural was, and how it was meant to serve as a symbol of inclusivity and acceptance for our LGBTQ2S+ community.
Q: JR, can you speak to the role of murals and public art in the context of the pandemic, where we end up spending so much time apart and inside?
JR: I actually think public art is even more important now than in pre-COVID life, even if it’s just to motivate you to get out of the house, to look at something, to breathe fresh air, to get some sunlight. There are a lot of people who work from home or who have lost their jobs, and so many people can’t see their families. Anything that can bring light, colour, or connection in a time like this is really important.