Public art helps make city spaces more interesting

NANAIMO – The city will mark Public Art Week May 12-16 with the installation of two new art pieces downtown.

Every time Winnipeg-native Crystal Todd visits Nanaimo, she notes fresh artwork along the city’s waterfront.

“That’s new. I am not sure I saw it the last time I was here,” she said, surveying a Dungeness crab carving near one of the downtown piers. “It’s a little creepy.”

Todd, who is wrapping up her fifth trip to Nanaimo, says she likes the public art displayed in Maffeo Sutton Park, which gives her a little something extra to look at than waterfront views alone. She’s disappointed she won’t be around to see the latest installation of sculptures, including a three-metre-long cedar octopus on display next week.

Monday marks the start of Public Art Week and this year’s showcase of temporary public art.

According to the City of Nanaimo, there’s big value to art public, from making spaces more interesting to generating community pride and interaction. Since the temporary art initiative started in 2008, the municipality has spent about $70,000 and expanded its offerings to include videos of artists through sculpture QR codes and a new Nanaimo Art Explorer app.

Now its cultural plan suggests setting up a public art reserve with a $100,000 annual contribution to buy permanent artwork. There is also an effort to create self-guided art tour brochures and review the temporary arts program for potential improvements.

The city had fewer applications to pick from this year, prompting it to install two new sculptures compared to four in 2013.

“Why we are not getting a bulk load of proposals, I am not sure,” said Chris Barfoot, the city’s culture and heritage coordinator. “We are hoping that through that consultation process with the artists we will get the answers we need to make any necessary changes, if they are necessary, and enhance that program.”

But Barfoot says the temporary arts initiative is largely successful. Artists are given an honorarium to create work that goes on display for about a year before it’s returned to creators. It gives artists a venue to express themselves, and the public gets memorable experiences and an outdoor gallery that remains fresh, he said.

“I think it is a small investment with an enormous return,” he said.

Artist Dan Richey says the program allows him to use Nanaimo as his gallery. He is just now putting the finishing touches on his latest work, the Giant Pacific Octopus, which will be installed May 16.

“Wait til you see this thing. It’s nine feet long and all the tentacles come out. It looks like it’s swimming,” he said.

The city will also install Ts’awalk by Laura Timmermans.