A blank canvas ripe for creativity

Local collective turns satellite dishes into works of art

Satellite dishes have become the blank canvases for many local artists who paint unique works of art on them. Smiley face painted by Caitlin McDonagh. Photo: Art Extension

Walking through the streets of Park Extension, you may notice several unique and out-of-the-ordinary things that make up the character of the neighbourhood. That thing could perhaps be as simple as an old satellite dish.

Although a somewhat ubiquitous sight in the neighbourhood, a local art collective called Art Extension is transforming the disused telecommunications technology and turning them into works of art.

These dishes have become the blank canvases for many local artists who paint unique works of art on them, and turn the street into an outdoor urban art gallery. They range from Hellenic art celebrating the area’s Greek heritage, to abstract and surrealist paintings of peacocks and woolly mammoths.

Headed by artists Lisa Baum and her husband Jonathan Cohen, the project was started last year and now comprises 23 unique satellite dishes throughout the neighbourhood, stretching from Jean-Talon to Jarry, and de l’Acadie to Parc. They are still looking for more dishes to work on.

Finding inspiration

“Les antennes de Parc-Ex is bringing color and beauty to the streets of Park Ex by painting the satellite dishes,” said Baum, the organizer behind the project. 

The couple has lived in Park Extension since 2016 and is deeply involved in Montreal’s artistic community. They regularly noticed old satellite dishes dotting residential buildings. 

The idea came to her and her husband in January 2020 during a trip to Costa Rica. “There were these upcycled painted satellite dishes that just looked so cool,” said Baum of an art installation at the hotel they were staying at which inspired the idea.

“Suddenly we were like, wouldn’t it be cool if we did that in Park Ex,” she explained. Thus the project was born. 

Jonathan Cohen, with the first satellite dish they painted depicting a Greek Evil Eye, painted by Linda Luttinger. Photo: Art Extension

Financial support

When they returned from their trip, Baum and Cohen applied for a grant from the Conseil des arts de Montréal, which was open to projects in the borough of Villeray—Saint-Michel— Parc-Extension that year.

“We’re just gonna do it, we’re just gonna put a hat in the ring,” Baum recalled enthusiastically. “In December, we found out that we were chosen, of all the artists, to get the funding, and it was a very, very generous grant,” added Baum. 

The grant was worth $24,000. “Without the funding of the Conseil des arts de Montréal we would never have been able to do it on this scale,” she explained.

This allowed them to kickstart the project, by connecting residents and building owners with various local artists who would work on their satellite dishes. 

“It was really cool to see that as a co-creation between the homeowner and the artist,” 

Celebrating the neighbourhood

Art Extension expressly wants to celebrate Park Extension along with the talented artists within it. 

“We want the artists to be free to express themselves,” said Baum of how they give artists free rein over the art they put up, all while encouraging them to celebrate Park Ex.

Two works, in particular, do exactly that, depicting the Evangelismos Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church and the Afroditi Bakery on Saint-Roch. “Two streetscapes from Park Ex are actually done by a visual artist called Roxana Kibsey,” said Baum of the two dishes that celebrate iconic Park Extension locations. 

“Some people travel through our neighbourhood and just see poverty and other people see the beauty of Park Ex,” explained Baum, adding that Kibsey’s work was a perfect example of that admiration. 

Greek heritage

A few of the dishes showcase the predominantly Greek heritage of Park Extension. Some of the works include Athena’s Owl and the Evil Eye.

“The Greek eye was actually the first one that we put up,” said Baum. “Everyone’s got their own personality and their own kind of perspective on the project, and there’s never any one- size fits all,” continued Baum. 

She explained that they worked in close coordination with the Greek resident who absolutely wanted something that represented her heritage. They, therefore, settled on the white and blue evil eye.

“It was really cool to see that as a co-creation between the homeowner and the artist,” said Baum. “She was just thrilled when we put it up on her building,” she recalled. 

Athena and her owl, painted by Linda Luttinger. Photo: Art Extension

Road ahead

As for the road ahead, Art Extension hopes to grow the project over the coming months. “We’re working on an interactive map at the moment,” said Baum, explaining that it would allow people to explore the area and visit each dish with the help of a smartphone 

“They’re all going to be visible on there, so anyone can go on their smartphone and follow that map,” explained Baum. It is set to be released in September. “Getting people out on the streets is something that’s integral to the project,” she added.

Initially pegged at 25, Art Extension recently increased its objective to paint up to 30 satellite dishes. While interested artists abound, the challenge now is finding new satellite dishes.

Baum wants residents to reach out to Art Extension if they have a satellite dish on their building at a visible location and want it to be painted. The owner of the building would also need to approve the project. “We’re still looking for a few satellite dishes.” 

“We are a neighbourhood with a long history and a complicated history, and it’s still being written,” said Baum, explaining that the project was meant to showcase that history and contribute to it at the same time. 

Streetscape of Evangelismos Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church, painted by Roxanna Kibsey. Photo: Art Extension