Today marked another amazing session of Walking Home Projects Yaletown Public Art! Bryan Newson, the city of Vancouver’s Public Art Program Manager, was present to give us a guided interpretive tour of North False Creek’s public art. Newson is in charge of selecting, approving and implementing public art throughout the city, so it was very exciting to have his first-hand knowledge of the city’s artwork at our disposal. It was also an exciting day because it finally felt like summer in Vancouver! The temperature was a delicious twenty-eight degrees, a perfect day to spend outside exploring and our group definitely took advantage.
Our session started in the sweet shade of a large tree at Cooper’s Park, where we met Bryan Newson and a guest from the Immigration Services Society who was joining our group for the day. Bryan started by explaining the history of public art in Vancouver and the city’s Cultural Services Public Art Program. Apparently, prior to Expo 86’, public art in Vancouver was very limited in scope and there was no official program set up to curate it. It was only after the Expo – when participating countries wanted to leave large artworks they had brought in as part of their pavilions – that the city decided it needed to develop a program and criteria for accepting and promoting public art. This was to ensure that the city’s public spaces were protected and preserved from artworks that may not merit long-term placement. Perhaps more importantly, the city also decided to take a more proactive stance on accumulating public art; rather than simply accepting donations, they would begin commissioning work specific to Vancouver. Although I already had some idea of the importance of Expo 86 before today’s session – large developments like the Skytrain, Science World, BC Place Stadium and the Plaza of Nations are all still a big part of Vancouver today – I was unaware of the extent the event shaped our city in the area of public art.
After this historical introduction, our busy afternoon of walking was underway. In total, we looked at twelve pieces: “Time Top” by Jerry Pethick, an untitled fountain by Al McWilliams, “The Copper Mews” by Alan Storey, “Lookout” by Noel Best & Chris Dikeakos, “Street Light” by Bernie Miller & Alan Tregebov, “Welcome to the Land of Light” by Henry Tsang, “Glass Umbrellas” by Don Vaughan, “Brush with Illumination” by Buster Simpson, “Collection” by Mark Lewis, “Footnotes” by Gwen Boyle, “Password” by Alan Storey, and “Terra Nova” by Richard Prince. It was a busy afternoon to say the least!
I honestly feel like I could write a few pages on each piece thanks to all of the information and insight Bryan shared combined with the reactions and comments from my peers, but for the sake of space, I will only talk about one of the works we looked at, which was of particular interest to me, “The Copper Mews” by Alan Storey. This work was immediately appealing to our group who all enjoyed the highly interactive quality of the piece. It consists of a meandering path that transforms from trail to rail to boardwalk, above which there are five wooden barrels in honour of the cooperage that once stood in its place. When one steps onto the boardwalk planks the barrels emit steam and a different musical note for each plank. Bryan explained to us how noise concerns were a large obstacle in bringing the piece to realization and that Alan Storey was forced to compromise on the level of sound emitted from the work. This was a helpful reminder that public art involves many stakeholders and that negotiation is an important part of the process. I really enjoyed this piece because of the large response it created in our group. I also feel it successfully evokes a sense of history while activating public space with sculpture in a fun unobtrusive way.
Our day ended at the Roundhouse, but I’ll admit I left the group early because the weather had the beach calling my name! Actually, I headed to Vanier Park to take part Mountain Equipment Co-op’s $5 Kayaking Classes, which I had learned about from Catherine during our Canada Day walking session. In addition to learning so much about Vancouver and its public art, the program has been an amazing resource for exchanging our own experiences of the city. That unexpected benefit has been truly wonderful, as it provides all of us with many suggestions on new ways to experience and walk through Vancouver.
sam - the notepad kid