Augmenting our reality: Ottawa ARt City is practically painting the city

Ottawa ARt City is an augmented reality art festival that is accessed through a locally designed iOS app called Hidelight.

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This summer, a new type of festival has landed in downtown Ottawa; one that exists digitally, not physically.


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Ottawa ARt City is an augmented reality art festival that is accessed through a locally designed iOS app called Hidelight. The app allows users to physically explore and visit a library of virtual art exhibits spread across the city, created by several local art institutes in Ottawa.

Application designer and artist Paul Sharp offers an original insight into the use of technology for civic engagement with the arts and culture during a time when mass social gatherings are discouraged.

When users load the Hidelight app, they will be presented with a map marked with local exhibits to visit. Once within reach of a work of art, users can use their camera to see the overlapping exposure to the physical scene in front of them.


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Users can also learn more about the virtual art pieces presented by the Ottawa School of Art, Ottawa Public Art and the Ottawa Art Gallery.

Ottawa ARt City also encourages the contribution of local citizens by allowing them to upload their own content to the augmented reality of Hidelight. Users can add their own video, audio and 3D models to the virtual exhibition space to be explored by other visitors.

“Your phone is your ticket to this safe, futuristic festival,” Sharp writes on the Ottawa ARt City website.

Augmented Reality (RA) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where objects residing in the real world are enhanced by digital information.

This technology is used with Ottawa ARt City to virtually display pieces of art in specific locations.


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This fusion of real and virtual worlds is often called mixed reality, an environment where physical and digital objects coexist and interact in real time.

Exhibition information can be accessed through the Hidelight app.  Maximum peacock / capital flow
Exhibition information can be accessed through the Hidelight app. Maximum peacock / capital flow jpg

Hidelight uses the camera of the user’s mobile device to superimpose a digital reality on their physical setup. Virtual objects remain spatially proportional and present to augmented reality as users move around them.

Virtual spaces and events have been growing in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but often lack convincing spatial presence and interactivity when viewed from behind a screen. RA offers some solutions to these challenges at a time when physical spaces are not accessible to everyone.

In 2016, Niantic’s Pokémon Go took the world by storm, essentially superimposing a fantasy world on everyday physical reality to create a gamified scavenger hunt for virtual assets. This fictitious reality approach to RA is just one example of how physical and digital worlds can be fused to bring communities together in their local space.


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With the innovation always present in software and hardware, the new possibilities for entrepreneurs and artists increase. While many technology giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple design their own interfaces to interact with mixed realities, Hidelight shows a local artistic integration of the same technology fundamentals.

Although the festival was officially held from July 10 to 18, the exhibits are still accessible through the Hidelight app on iOS devices. If you’re looking for a way to interact safely with local arts and culture while getting a preview of the next wave of technology, Ottawa ARt City is a must-see summer list.

This story also appears on Capital Current, the community news site run by Carleton University’s journalism program.



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