Let’s Talk About Art

"Public art creates a sense of community and place."

“My dream is to be able to take a bicycle tour of public art.”

~Biliana Velkova, Arts Coordinator for Cultural Services at Anvil Centre

Biliana Velkova’s excitement about public art is infectious. We are on the phone talking about public art initiatives and she is so keen to tell me about everything the City has going on that she can’t get the words out fast enough and I’m jotting notes down in probably the worst chicken scratch possible. We both hit a wall, laugh as we realize it, and pause to catch up.

Velkova explains that the city is about to embark on an arts renaissance, if you will. “There’s so many great things going on, it is a very exciting time right now.” Funding for public art comes from the Public Art Reserve Fund, a fund guided by a Public Art Policy developed and adopted in 2012 and through the guidance of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, chaired by local architect and public art fan, Eric Pattison.

Councillor Mary Trentadue, the Council Representative of the PAAC, is emphatic that public art is vital the the health of New Westminster and is clear that the City is on board.

“I strongly believe Public Art creates a sense of community and place. One of the benefits of Public Art in any city is that it is free and accessible for everyone in the community. It also inspires conversations – whether you have people are coming together to view it or freely exchanging ideas on social media, conversations are happening and that is what builds a strong and engaged community.”

Our dream on the Public Art Committee is to find ways to expand upon the traditional ideas of public art. We want to inspire our community, and surprise them in their everyday. The Arts are highly valued in New Westminster and we’d like to make sure it’s represented in many different ways and in as many different locations as possible.”
After talking with Velkova and Trentadue I feel reinvigorated about public art in our community. Over the years, I have seen a number of pieces in our town that were, well, underwhelming. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good statue of a dead white guy, but let’s face it – art doesn’t always need to be replicas of someone who once walked where you are now standing.
When WOW Westminster, Jose Resende’s shipping containers (see the featured image, above) was announced I kind of screwed up my face and wasn’t really sure. But literally every time I see it I feel something different. Sometimes anger, sometimes protected, sometimes discombobulated. It’s very presence shapes my emotions whether I want it to or not.
Public art is more critical than I ever thought and it makes your brain work.
Below is a list of some of the public art coming up I am really jazzed up about. Don’t forget to also check out the cultural map. And please share in the comments if there’s a piece already in New West you love.

Community Banners:

There are two opportunities for community banner public art.

“Banners are movement of the art itself,” says Velkova. “They create a different relationship than typical two dimensional art in that the artist can play with elements such as the fabric we will use, or the angle at which the banner might typically be viewed.”

“It is user-generated public art.”

Community Banners Public Art Program: The City has put out a call for artists to contribute banner designs to existing light standard brackets on 6th Street, from Columbia to 5th Avenue. The idea is to brighten up the street using local artists, including new and emerging artists, including youth. The banners present an interesting challenge in creating art.

Art in the Streets: A second banner project has just also gotten the green light, and its aim is slightly younger artists from 5-12 years old. This installation is focused on two areas in the city – 12th Street and in Sapperton – and better yet, the program is free. Registration is required – you can call or book online and I  guarantee this will sell out.

Screenshot 2016-03-08 13.18.56

Public Art Installations:

2-Blue Trees_Westminster Pier Park_Konstantin DimopoulosYou’ve likely heard about the Vancouver Biennale installations in our city, or perhaps you’ve seen the three pieces we have The Blue Trees – a quirky and fun “environmental performance art”, the sustainable and surprisingly comfy Public Furniture | Urban Trees, and the towering and amazing WOW Westminster.

But there’s more public art coming. It’s interesting that both pieces described below are by Muse Atelier, but were juried totally separately by separate panels and were from separate call for proposals. I guess artists Jacqueline Metz and Nancy Chew “get” New West.


by Muse Atelier

rorschacsentinelrorschach/sentinel is monumental and intricate, it’s verticality playing off the horizontal sweep of the skytrain track and complimenting the vertical structures of the skytrain bridge – as if they are all standing together. Its strong imagery is easily read against its’ surroundings and is reminiscent of the presence of the working waterway and the local heritage. It is powerful and iconic – marking the entrance into Downtown New Westminster.

rorschach/sentinel is based on a profile of a large merchant ship that was vital to the Allied war effort. The ship is consistent with the vessels that docked at the New Westminster port and contributed to the labour history and economic development of the city.

This piece will be installed on Columbia Street, at the foot of Elliot Street.

birds on a branch

by Muse Atelier

birds copySongbirds resting on branches are a playful counterpoint to the industrial façade of the parkade and the working waterfront. These monumental fragments of the natural world introduce something light-hearted, gentle, almost domestic:

  • they could be birds in the nearby forest;
  • they could be the silhouettes of birds in a garden, reminding the viewer of the heritage homes nearby;
  • they could be images taken from textiles or china patterns of the 1800s – woven into the ‘fabric’ of the chainlink facade.

This piece will be installed on the revitalized parkade.

More Mosaics:

A small amount of leftover funding has been allocated to the creation of a few more mosaics in the city. I didn’t realize how much I love these mosaics, but they are such wonderful bits of brightness on otherwise dreary concrete sidewalks.  There are tonnes of them, too! The one in Sapperton in the Brewery District is my favourite, I have to admit.

Thank you to Biliana Velkova, a very talented artist in her own right, for supplying the images that accompany this article! 

Jen Arbo

Jen Arbo is the editor and co-publisher of Tenth to the Fraser. She's been writing for the site since 2007 and lives in Sapperton with her family. A project manager at heart, she also operates Hyack Interactive, a digital communications company. Find her on Twitter or Instagram.

Jen Arbo is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.


  1. Hi Jen!

    Really loved reading such a well written and passionate article about New Westminster and Public Art. New West is truly an inspirational city that is adopting a proactive and ambitious approach to integrating the Arts into the city’s fabric and lifestyle.

    I work for the Vancouver Biennale and its a dream to read your article because i have been working on the 3 artworks you described above for 2.5 years and its truly a joy to see the community engage with these works.

    I just wanted to point out one mistake, which is a quick fix – the link for WOW Westminster is incorrect – it currently goes to the Blue Trees artwork page on the Vancouver Biennale website. The correct link for WOW is – http://www.vancouverbiennale.com/artworks/wow-new-westminster/

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