Call for Arts: Public Art Opportunities

The City of New Westminster’s Public Art Program has sent out another call for artists to contribute to the growing collection of public art, this time with photography-based installations. Teaming up with the Capture Photography Festival, the City will install in two locations, the first in the downtown area of New Westminster on the side of 350 Columbia Street and the second on the West wall of the Telus Mobility Store at 610 Sixth Street.

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Artists and artist teams are invited to respond to the theme Traffic. Like we have nothing to say about Traffic in New Westminster, right? Artists are encouraged to submit a proposal that considers the concept of traffic and its different interpretations.

Biliana Velkova, the Arts Coordinator for the City of New Westminster says, “The theme explores the concept of traffic in a more abstract and intangible way. It could speak to vehicular traffic, yes, but it is open to ideas around digital traffic, movement of communication, internet traffic, etc.”  The Public Art Advisory Committee generated this theme because of the location and purpose of the buildings where the art will be installed. The building on 6th Street belongs to TELUS, which is a signifier of communication and digital traffic, while the building on 350 Columbia looks over the Fraser River and Columbia Street, which signifies traffic of goods and people.

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Two artists or artist teams will be selected for this opportunity. Each artist or artist team will receive an artist fee of $3000.00 CAD to produce one or more print-ready digital artwork files. Each will take the form of a temporary (at least a year), large-scale photo installation. This project will provide a point of access to art and photography for all members of the public—from nearby residents and commuters, to those drawn from outside the area by the local arts and culture scene.

Velkova says she is getting a great response from potential applicants – as far away as Toronto and many local artists, as well. The deadline is December 2, so there is still time. (For the full guidelines, see hereCity of New Westminster staff, members of the City of New Westminster Public Art Advisory Committee and jury panel members are not eligible to apply.) The jury will be comprised of a curator from Capture, a local arts professional, a member of the Public Art Advisory Committee, a member of each the Downtown BIA and the Uptown BIA, and a public art artist.

“Public art brings an identity to a place and animates the public realm in a creative and critical way,” says Velkova. “It is a fantastic way to start to get people to pay attention to otherwise ignored spaces. It creates placemaking, makes people slow down, encourages tourism and increase of foot traffic.”

Two Great Arts Events

Two amazing arts and crafts focused events you should plug into your calendar and see if you can make it.

Van Dop Gallery’s 20th Anniversary

The first is this coming Saturday, November 26, from 11 to 5, at the Van Dop Gallery located at 421 Richmond Street. Trudy Van Dop is celebrating her home gallery’s 20th Anniversary with a great party and shopping event. The curated exhibition will feature new works, small masterpieces, exclusive to Van Dop Gallery, and a special collection of artworks, perfect for giving. The Gallery will be filled with festive treasures and hand crafted, one-of-a-kind ornaments and gifts. Gift certificates are available as well!  604-521-7887 or 1.888.981.9886. 

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New West Craft Christmas Night Market

New West Craft has your holiday shopping covered! The New West Craft Christmas Night Market returns on Saturday, December 3 at River Market. Shop over 40 vendors selling handmade goods. Enjoy live music and indulge in delicious food from River Market restaurants. This is more than a shopping event–it’s a community experience. The fun happens from 6pm to 9:30pm. For more, check out their Facebook event.

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Embrace public art to add surprise and whimsy to New West spaces

InsideOut
InsideOut

Art is a funny beast. Viewed in defined “art-appropriate” spaces – think hotels, building lobbies, hospitals, cafés and galleries, there are few styles, works or mediums that we don’t appreciate. From contemporary painting, large-scale black and white photography, avant-garde sculptures and mixed-media work, to hard to interpret audio pieces, we accept it as art, as something that is inherently good for us to be surrounded by – even when we don’t understand it.

As artist Martyn Reed of Stavanger, Norway said in an interview about public art with Juxtapoz magazine, “Art, on a philosophical level, even academically, is good for people; it improves the quality of people’s lives, which is why we put art classes in prisons; we have art in hospitals because it makes people’s lives better, it’s present in pre-op and in every ward, there are pictures. Everyone believes this, you don’t get people saying, ‘It doesn’t improve the quality of people’s lives.’”

Yet despite the positive and emotional connection many of us have towards art, we neglect how important the context in which we perceive it truly is. Viewed outside the confines of its regular context, we lose that same openness and acceptance of the quirky, hard to understand or strange. The vibrant club poster stapled to a telephone pole is no longer an ink print, but a nuisance. The series of wheat paste concert posters is no longer pop-art, but vandalism. The large-scale photographs stuck to a blank wall, they too cease to be considered art.

Public art or art created in and for the public sphere gets a bad rap. It can polarize a cohesive community into those who are up for a bit of whimsy in the public domain and those who are vehemently opposed to it. Of the diverse forms of public art, few are as vilified as graffiti. For many, the mere mention of the word invokes images of hastily spray-painted train cars, or sprawling script along vacant walls. Graffiti is akin to neighborhood blight.

And while in some cases graffiti does represent a lack of respect for a place, there is the flipside of the graffiti spectrum. Street artists and residents collaborating painstakingly over a period of hours or days, to create art for the betterment, interest and enjoyment of the community in which they reside.

This role of community generated public art or graffiti as social and economic tool is not often talked about, but can have a huge impact on a city. In an open letter to the mayor of Stockton, California – a fledgling city on the verge of bankruptcy, M. Revelli the editor of art magazine Juxtapoz, cites examples of Stavanger, Norway, Bristol, United Kingdom and New Orleans as examples of cities that have embraced an attitude of tolerance and openness to public art and are reaping the benefits of dollars spent in their cities. The influx of money to the city comes in the name of tourism as curious locals, art enthusiasts, bloggers and others in the art world travel to experience the works in these cities.

Another such city that has embraced graffiti and public art as civic tools is the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that city, well-known street artist Steve Powers, completed Love Letter, a series of murals along the elevated subway line to help give a sense of pride to residents from the different neighborhoods in which the murals were installed.

Discussing his experience in Philadelphia to Juxtapoz magazine, Powers explains, “Nobody saw any benefit of the project for their neighborhood. Once we got to painting and people saw the results, they got excited about their neighborhood again. Everything has been great ever since. And when they see people coming by daily to take pictures, the equation becomes very apparent. More people coming to the area translated to more foot traffic, which translates to more businesses.”

In addition to the economic benefit to the local economy of embracing public art, the social benefit of a community creating, appreciating and discussing art is invaluable. In a unique public art project, French artist JR – winner of the prestigious TED Prize, had the idea to empower people and strengthen communities around the world by encouraging widespread participation in a global art project, The InsideOut Project.

Sourcing co-creators from around the world, individuals or groups upload black and white portraits of themselves that subsequently get turned into large-format posters (they’re big, very big) and returned to the individuals to be posted in their own community. Using only their face to share a message, JR’s wish is to inspire people from all over the world to indulge their inner artist, taking pride in their communities ultimately making them better more interesting places to live.

Closer to home, New West is in the midst of a civic renaissance of sorts. After years of slow growth, the city is adding a more diverse and interesting culinary component to its reputation as an affordable city with great quality of life, good transportation, loads of amenities and a strong sense of community. While the depth of offerings is still developing, people are now moving to, coming to and staying in New West because of its food offering. What would the impact be if New West added a dynamic public art component to its urban fabric – reclaiming vacant spaces and knitting a sense of surprise into our public spaces?

Imagine a collaborative series of murals along the back of the buildings that face the Skytrain, short-run sculpture installations in parks or other public spaces, art installations in vacant commercial storefronts or our own chapter of the InsideOut Project. If only our city had disused wall space, vacant lots, empty storefronts or large unused areas along the waterfront … hmmm.

While I’m no artist, I appreciate the arts –no matter where on the brow they may fall, and would like to see a greater sense of playfulness and surprise in our public spaces. I am interested in helping push New West towards being a city that embraces the economic and social potential of public art through an open attitude towards it. We need not strive to be an art capital, just a community of engaged citizens who embrace the potential of the arts and aren’t afraid of a more dynamic and whimsical public sphere.

As for those black and white portraits through the InsideOut Project, mine arrived in the mail a few weeks back and all I need to do now is paste it up. Group exhibitions are always better than solo efforts. Get in touch with me if you’re interested in a group effort or check out http://www.insideoutproject.net

Bloom Art Studio: messy & inspiring fun for kids

Wesley & Kale with their "shadows"
Wesley & Kale with their "shadows"

Note: Bloom Art Studio has offered a special contest for Tenth to the Fraser readers! Comment on this post to before April 21, 2011 and enter to win four free classes at the studio (valued at over $60). Plus, ‘like’ Bloom’s Facebook page for another chance to win!

Bloom Art Studio at River Market is a safe place for kids to get messy – without driving parents crazy.

Owner Kimberly Chiem recently invited me and Jen Arbo to bring our kids down  to experience one of her parent-and-toddler art classes. It was a simple activity I remembered doing when I was in elementary school: first the kids lay down on strips of kraft paper so the parents could trace them, then the parents cut out the silhouettes and taped them to the walls and windows for the kids to paint.

Our kids painted their “shadows” on the windows of the studio. Wesley glopped paint on the floor and all over the chairs. Kale channeled Jackson Pollock and started flinging paint against the window.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Kim. “I’ll clean it all up later.”

Wesley prepares an apple for stamping
Wesley prepares an apple for stamping

Magic words. At home, I like to craft with the kids, but I’m always a little leery of anything truly messy. It’s fun, but I always worry about the cleanup. In a space like Bloom, the kids are free to play with colour and form in a space that’s designed to handle mess. The washable paint cleans off their little wooden chairs and concrete floor. The wall is intended to be coloured on. And even the windows are fair game.

Wesley had so much fun that I brought him back another day, this time with his baby sister (aged16 months) in tow. That day’s plan involved fruit & vegetable stamping. Kimberly provided a plate with halved strawberries, bok choy, lemons, potatoes, apples and other produce and a selection of colourful paints. Once again the craft was simple (and messy): dip the fruit or veg in the paint and stamp it on paper.

Even my littlest enjoyed this craft, and when my son finished his prints and asked if he could have a brush to paint free-form, Kim was happy to go with the flow. A few little artists joined my son in asking for a brush, while others happily kept dipping & stamping their veggies.

Little Nora enjoyed painting too
Little Nora enjoyed painting too

Bloom Art Studio offers a variety of classes and events for kids, including “mini-camps” over Spring Break March 21-25. You can sign up for a series of lessons or opt for the drop-in rate ($8.57 + tax during the winter session). There are even some activities for grown-ups: a monthly Occasional Knitter’s Group (launching March 25 at 7pm) and a Japanese Hand-Built Pottery Class.