Art, and by extension artists, help build community. That was the insight that inspired the Arts on the Ave initiative over 10 years ago and that continues to bring energy to the transformation of our community.  

It was the arts focus—as well the reasonable real estate values—that drew painter Marcie Rohr and her husband to Alberta Avenue three years ago.

“It [also] takes a community to make art. The painting itself is only the beginning. The other and equally important part is that what I have painted becomes a bridge for connection and communication. The painter and viewer, co-creating. The painting completed in a dialogue about what the painting means to each. Community happens around this dialogue. It is very satisfying for me, the artist.”

Rohr’s paintings are filled with character representations abstract enough to encourage dialogue. She takes the time to explain her process.

“I paint from the inside out. Phase one of every painting reflects something of childhood: the confusion, disorientation, tentative attempts at living, successes and failures, trauma, bumps and bruises. These are the foundation of our life. These are the base for life’s canvas. This is the foundation for the rest of the painting. This is where all the colour comes from. I layer the canvas with colours that reflect my feelings, memories, childhood horrors and delights,” Rohr said.

The cat in the photo with Rohr is named Iris and is Rohr’s muse. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

Next, she adds lines, definition, structure, and boundaries. Rohr explains this step “reflects my attempt to make sense of childhood. I create separation, contrast. I add no new colours, I just bring some colours to the fore and move others to the background. I let the personalities play together, learn to get along.”

Rohr added, “The goal of life and the work of the artist is to makes sense of the madness, trauma, pain, all these experiences that define reality. Painting and creating is what brings me in tune with the energetic current within, my inner voice, feelings, and provides a format to deal with whatever surfaces.”

Next, she adds white paint over most of background. Rohr explained white is important to her because it represents wisdom, truth, and peace.

“White is the connecting medium, the expression of resolution. If all my childhood issues were resolved and all of life’s questions answered, the whole canvas would be white. When I am finished, the background sometimes looks like a mosaic, sometimes with apparent figures like a petroglyph,” she said.

The fact that she lives on the Avenue impacts her art.

“Living in the hood is very true to life. Every painting tells a story and story is everything. I live in story and it is often the tragic and dramatic that feeds into this. I welcome these events as my muse. On the Ave you are never  far removed from pain, happiness, confusion, despair, opportunity. Everything’s all right here, in your face. There are so many layers of experience. Sometimes it seems like there is a blanket of sorrow laid over the neighbourhood.”

Rohr said this sorrow is visible by seeing homeless people, prostitutes, johns, chop shops or by hearing domestic arguments.

Rohr said she works from the inside out in her paintings. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

Soon Rohr will be creating art with a new city and neighbourhood to inspire her. This summer, Rohr is moving to Vancouver to study at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

“I am expecting that to be a challenge as I have been my own teacher for 14 years and I don’t take direction very well,” she smiled.

She doesn’t know yet if she’s returning to Edmonton.

“That’s too far in the future. But for the time being at least, we are renting our house so that we can keep our options open. Life on the Ave definitely has its appeal. ”

For more information about Marcie Rohr’s work, check out

Featured Image: Marcie Rohr said the goal of the artist is to make sense of life’s experiences. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck