Downtown Halifax mural set to disappear

Jacoba Niepoort’s street art to be replaced with large-scale development project

Time is running out to admire a five-storey mural before it vanishes forever.

In 2019, Danish artist Jacoba Niepoort painted the Rio Abajo Rio mural which adorns a wall at 1568 Hollis St.

The building it’s painted on is being demolished to create space for two 21-storey towers proposed by United Gulf Developments. The towers will be named Skye Halifax.

“It’ll definitely be sad to see the wall go, it ends an era of the mural existing,” Niepoort said from her home in Demark. “It’s something I put a lot of soul, energy, love and time into.”

In 2015, the Downtown Halifax Business Commission introduced a new arts grant program called Gritty to Pretty. Niepoort applied for a mural grant and received the maximum funding of $10,000.

Niepoort spent two weeks working “marathon” days painting the mural. She said she wanted to portray the idea of creativity through a local lens. The mural is based on an image of a young girl from Halifax.

“The idea was to create something where she’s holding something that you can’t see or you don’t know, but things are flowing out of her hands,” she said. “The mural is meant to take you back to the basics of creativity that we all had in childhood curiosity.”

Jacoba Niepoort paints the Rio Abajo Rio mural in downtown Halifax in 2019.   Stoo Metz

In 2019, the Rio Abajo Rio mural was included in Street Art 360’s Top 100 Art of 2019.

“The recognition was nice,” Niepoort said. “But for me, it’s meeting the neighbour who has to look at this every day or the person who writes me a year later and tells me how it’s impacted their life is what matters.”

Maggie Kennedy took time to admire the mural while visiting Halifax on Thursday. She said it’s unfortunate the mural soon won’t be accessible to the public.

“Street murals are a really great way for people to experience art who can’t afford to go to museums or don’t have a lot of art in their life,” she said. “This mural is just a good reminder to stop and look at some art before walking down the sidewalk.”

Maggie Kennedy, left, thinks it’s unfortunate that the mural at 1568 Hollis St. soon won’t be accessible to the public.   Will McLernon

Niepoort said she didn’t know whether the mural was ever going to be demolished when she was painting. She signed a contract that guaranteed the mural would stay one year, but then the commission would have free rein to do what they wanted with the space.

Paul MacKinnon, business commission CEO, said the building at 1568 Hollis St. has an approved demolition permit and has been slated to be taken down for quite some time.

“We were aware of this when we funded the mural project knowing that it was going to be temporary,” MacKinnon said in an email. “Often it’s easier to get permission to install murals on building which are temporary use.”

United Gulf Developments didn’t provide a comment by Friday on when the building would be demolished.

Niepoort said art being destroyed for property development projects is both an issue and a normal occurrence in street art since many murals are in empty or rundown areas.

“It’s up to the people who live there to decide how the space works to make places better or to be influenced in allowing new murals,” she said. “I leave it when I leave town, but of course it’s too bad that it was so short.”

Will McLernon

Will McLernon is a journalist with The Signal. He is currently finishing up his Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree with a minor in International Development at the University of King's College.

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