The first session of “Walking Home Yaletown Public Art” started at Yaletown’s “Immigration Services Society” where participants were eager to hear what exactly they’d gotten themselves into. Looking around the room, I was excited to see so many equally ambitious young people who had all decided that exploring Vancouver’s public art scene was a much better way to spend their hot summer days than exploring the beaches. I guess by ambitious, I must have meant crazy!
As introductions got underway, it quickly became clear that interests and backgrounds were wide and varied; participants ranged in age from 15-25 and their knowledge of public art and the city of Vancouver was anywhere from near-expert to beginner. As a third year student in Fine Arts at Emily Carr, I was very excited by this mix because of the opportunity it afforded to discuss art with both fellow art students and those with different backgrounds.
Catherine Pulkinghorn, the director of this adventure, quickly explained what the project entailed. “Walking Home Yaletown Public Art” was a collaborative art education project in which the group would walk through the city together in order to learn about Vancouver’s public art experientially. The project was not a passive guided tour. Instead, it was a stage for “youth empowerment” in which all participants would be required to actively engage with one another and with the artwork to create meaning, both as individuals and as a group. This process would be recorded by Laurie Dawson, a freelance broadcaster, who would be accompanying us and sharing her broadcasting expertise.
After these formal introductions Catherine got us outside to begin our journey. We headed towards the Waterfront along Seymour Street to George Wainborn Park and were asked to take in our surroundings by engaging in a...landmark scavenger hunt! Some of us had never been to this part of the city which made the task quite challenging. This struggle was certainly understandable given that even those of us who had frequented the neighbourhood found ourselves having to actively search for some of the items. Once this task was complete, we gathered around our first piece of public art, “Khenko”, by Douglas R. Taylor.
“Khenko” is a large wire wind sculpture of a Great Blue Heron that through the use of windmills slowly flaps its wings. Catherine explained that this sculpture seemed a perfect introduction to the context of our setting as it reflected the shift in environment from False Creek’s industrial roots – when pollution had devastated the area to such an extent that no vegetation or wildlife could be supported – to its current beautifully developed park spaces. The sculpture is a symbol of hope and restoration, as the birds and wildlife are just now slowly but surely returning. This bit of history definitely came as a shock to most of us who have only ever known False Creek as a beautiful stretch of the seawall.
As we moved on, our discussion shifted to the buildings that surrounded us and the urban planning that had contributed to the space we were enjoying. This area remains one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in recent North American history . It was transformed following Expo 86, when the province controversially sold the large strip of waterfront to Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing . A primary shareholder of the Canadian residential development company, “Concord Pacific,” Ka-shing contracted this company to develop the area into his vision of a high density waterfront community.
When it came to light that part of the agreement between the city and Concord Pacific was that a portion of the their budget and land had to be dedicated to developing public amenities like parks, schools and public art, many of us were again surprised, as Yaletown is often perceived as existing only for Vancouver’s “elite.” It was quite exciting to then learn that an area I had perceived as private, in fact had an abundance of public space that was available for my enjoyment! As we wrapped up our first day in David Lam Park I was excited by this shift in my perception and in our group’s dynamic, and looked forward to our next session of sharing and experiencing Vancouver together.
sam - the notepad kid