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City of Nanaimo names first artists in retooled temporary public art program

Art works will now be on display for five years with two new artists each year
Artists Curtis Grahauer and Jesse Gray have been selected to take part in the City of Nanaimo’s temporary public art program. (Photos courtesy Krista Loewen/Jesse Gray)

The City of Nanaimo has announced the two artists who will have work on display from 2022 to 2026 as part of its revamped temporary public art program.

In a newsletter this month, the city announced that sculptor Jesse Gray and filmmaker Curtis Grahauer will be creating art work to be displayed in Deverill Square Park and Bowen Park.

Starting in 2022 the temporary public art program is changing from having 10 artists display work in Maffeo Sutton Park for one year to 10 artists showing work for five years across the city. The new model will start with only two artists, but each year an additional two artists will be added, totalling 10 artists after five years. At that point each year will see two new artists replace those whose five years are up.

Instead of receiving a $1,000 or $4,000 honourarium, the artists will now get $7,500 for the five-year period with $5,000 available to support the production of the art work. Culture and events coordinator Allison Collins said the new model is “more of a commission-style approach” which better supports artists.

“The same several candidates who were already making sculptures and showing it in different cities or communities were able to jump into that call [to artists] because they had things that were ready,” Collins said. “But other artists who might have needed support to make something new couldn’t really access the program because the support being offered – particularly the $1,000 honourarium – was not even covering the cost sometimes for someone to come and install the work.”

This is the first time Gray and Grahauer are publicly displaying their work in Nanaimo. Gray’s piece, Chimes for the South End, will be a series of metal poles resembling “a little forest of reeds” topped with bronze castings made from neighbourhood trash that make a sound when knocked together. Gray lives in the neighbourhood and said the project is inspired by its specific “aural landscape.”

“We have the helipad, we have the ferries from Duke Point and Gabriola, we have the industrial waterfront, we have also a really amazing pair of nested bald eagles that lives across from me that make a ton of sound,” she said. “And there’s, for example, one sound that comes from I think one of the pulp mills or laminate factories where it makes this low-frequency pulsing hum that is constantly being discussed on our neighbourhood Facebook page and people just hate it.”

Grahauer’s project is tentatively titled Millstone (One Year of a River). All next year Grahauer will be filming Bowen Park and Millstone River, documenting their changes over time. Those videos will be accessible on signs posted at points along the river and a final film will be screened at the Bowen Park amphitheatre. He said he got the idea while taking his two-year-old son on slow walks through Bowen Park over the past year.

“Having not really done much since our child was born I was just getting itchy to start working on something,” he said. “So I’ve been slowly thinking about trying to work out a project that would document a year of something, and having walked around Bowen Park and seeing all the different changes to the river and the surrounding area, the [project] started coalescing.”

Collins said there were 17 submissions to the temporary public art program this year. She said Gray and Grahauer’s proposals stood out because of their “relevance to place.”

“For each of those projects they really responded directly to the site context that the artists were exploring here in Nanaimo,” she said. “So it wasn’t a project that could be anywhere. It was really a project, in both cases, that responded to the neighbourhood.”

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