The five Nanaimo residents tasked with advising city council on matters relating to public art are set to meet for the first time early next month.
In August, the City of Nanaimo announced the members of its new art in public spaces working group. They include Nanaimo Art Gallery curator Jesse Birch, art conservator Cheryle Harrison, art historian Marie Leduc, art educator Yvonne Vander Kooi and artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun.
“We were looking for people specifically who have demonstrated experience in aspects of visual arts and we wanted people who represented a variety of professions and experiences to be able to speak to public art,” city culture and events manager Julie Bevan said.
The members are all volunteers appointed to a two-year term. Bevan said they will be meeting “several times a year” and their duties will include serving on selection panels for art projects, reviewing and providing feedback on requests for proposals and calls to artists and helping the city proceed in line with its 2010 community plan for public art.
“Part of their role, big picture, is to champion the role of art, artists and creative practitioners and promote processes and policies at the city that support the livelihood of artists and to promote awareness and understanding about the public value of art in public spaces,” Bevan said.
Birch said he was drawn to the position because of his commitment to supporting the “cultural fabric” of Nanaimo.
“I’d love to see Nanaimo continue to develop an innovative and inspiring public art policy and body of public art that speaks to this place and honours Snuneymuxw and other regional Indigenous communities and sparks community connections,” he said.
As a conservator, Harrison has worked on public art work including the E.J. Hughes mural at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre and projects at the B.C. legislature, Vancouver Post Office and Victoria city hall. She said the 2010 community plan could use some updating.
“In the last 10 years Nanaimo’s grown a lot. Our public spaces and how we use them has also changed,” she said. “And I see that public art … can communicate and inspire and contribute in new and diverse ways and part of that is looking at our spaces now that we have in our community.”
Aside from writing and researching, Leduc has also studied and taught studio art and art history at the post-secondary level and has been a gallery curator. She said she’s concerned about how Nanaimo is represented through art and wanted to be involved with the decision making.
“This group, I think, is a really good addition,” she said. “A lot of big cities have such a committee and help to guide the selection choices and help to not just guide that, but to nurture more art activity. So it’s a reciprocal thing.”
Vander Kooi has created public art projects with students from Bayview Elementary School and as participants of the NAG’s youth art groups. She also facilitated the creation of a memorial mural for murdered Nanaimo teenager Makayla Chang.
“I’ve participated with some public art in Nanaimo and I think it’s really an important part of our local culture in identifying who we are in a playful way,” she said. “So it’s part of my experience and it’s part of what I hope to continue to help support in the community.”
White-Hill has exhibited his work at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, painted murals at Beban Pool and this year he was awarded the City of Nanaimo’s Emerging Cultural Leader award. He said public art can have a role in educating people about the city’s Indigenous history.
“When there’s public art work it fundamentally shifts the nature of a space and the way that people interact with that space,” he said. “And I think it’s really important that Snuneymuxw is represented and our stories are talked about and that this is coming back to the surface in Nanaimo and teaching people about where they are and the history of this place.”