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Nanaimo unveils ‘Hidden Messages’ public art project to encourage physical activity

Project showcases 10 haikus by city’s poet laureate that only appear when wet
A ‘Hidden Messages’ poem applied in hydrophobic material that only appears when wet. This haiku, written by Nanaimo’s poet laureate, Kamal Parmar, was installed along the Haliburton Road multi-use path in late May. (Submitted photo)

When it rains in Nanaimo, something magical will happen.

In 10 locations along the city’s active transportation network, short poems will suddenly appear when wet.

The poems are a public art project, dubbed ‘Hidden Messages,’ initiated by the city’s transporation and culture and events departments, and is one of the first projects utilizing the city’s urban design roster program.

According to Allison Collins, cultural coordinator for the city, the project started when the transportation team indicated it wanted to encourage use of bike paths and pedestrian routes rain or shine.

“Transportation said, ‘What do you think we could do?’ And I said, ‘How about we get some poems?’” Collins said.

Written by Nanaimo’s poet laureate Kamal Parmar, the poems are eye-catching haikus that celebrate nature.

“Nanaimo is a city of open spaces and parks, and all of us are lovers of the outdoors,” she said. “I chose haiku because it’s the shortest form of poetry and it connects you. It connects you with nature because it’s very subtle and mystical in the sense that the first two lines are really direct … And then the third line is the clincher and gives you that ‘aha!’ moment… You stop in your tracks, literally, and you see the depth of the poem.”

As a nature lover who believes in the healing and therapeutic properties of the great outdoors, Parmar said she spent a significant amount of time being inspired by nature for this project.

Webb Creative created the stencils and applied the poems, which can be found at McGirr Sports Field, the E&N Trail at Northfield Road, Haliburton Road multi-use path, Colliery Dam Park, Bowen Park trail, the Queen Elizabeth Promenade, Departure Bay seawall, Walley Creek Trail, Front Street and Metral Drive at Mostar Road.

They were applied with Rainworks, a waxy, eco-friendly, hydrophobic, spray-paint-like material. Next to each poem, a QR code can be found that leads to an audio clip of Parmar reading the haiku aloud.

Collins said the project had been in the works for nearly a year, as the design and creation of the stencils took time. Another consideration was waiting for the appropriate time, she said, as the weather had to be dry and warm for proper material adhesion. The poems were applied the weekend of May 21-22 and unveiled by the city on May 30.

As the Rainworks material fades over time due to wear and tear, Collins said the life-span of the project is approximately six months.

READ MORE: Youths and seniors collaborate on Nanaimo Art Gallery public art project

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Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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