In The Making

A development is set to block East Van's iconic cross from view — its creator reflects on its legacy

In the Making walks with the artist through the working class neighbourhood he grew up in, now fundamentally changed.

In the Making walks with the artist through the working class area he grew up in, now fundamentally changed

Set to be blocked from view by a new development, Ken Lum speaks on his iconic East Van monument

3 years ago
Duration 3:18
In the Making walks with the artist through the working class neighbourhood he grew up in, now fundamentally changed.

Since the 1970s, Ken Lum has produced iconic artworks that speak to the complexities of class, race, labour and language, always framed by his sense of humour. A prolific writer, teacher and artist, Ken is best known for his public artworks as well as his thinking about monuments. On Lum's episode of In the Making, streaming now on CBC Gem, host Sean O'Neill meets him for a walk through his hometown of Vancouver where the majority of his works are located, including his iconic Monument for East Vancouver — a piece that has defined the area, but would be blocked from view by a new proposed development right next to it.

In this clip from his episode of In the Making, Ken Lum walks with Sean O'Neill through East Vancouver, the traditionally working class area of the city where Lum's family grew up in poverty, discussing the monument's history and its potential future.

Ken Lum's Monument for East Vancouver (White Pine Pictures)

"It's like a beacon, you know," says Lum of the towering cross-shaped sign that he created to memorialize a graffiti design he had seen throughout the area. "As a young boy, I remember seeing it written on the back of stores in marker pen. The work struck a chord with the city almost immediately. As soon as it went up, it was a big hit — much more than I could have even imagined or anticipated. I think it did so because it carries a kind of poignancy in terms of how it looks at the glass downtown."

"It's a marker of a place and all the values, even the deficiencies and lack that's attached to a place — all the good and bad."

Graffiti of the East Van symbol that inspired Ken Lum's Monument for East Vancouver. (Courtesy of White Pine Pictures)

The installation now faces an uncertain future, as the building set to be built next door would block the view of the monument. While the developers and City of Vancouver are considering moving the monument, this isn't something supported by Lum or some area residents such as Marc Lindy who spoke with In the Making. Lindy, who lives in the house that's the closest proximity to the monument, feels that the monument's location is integral to the artwork.

"We look at it every day and it's an important part of our identity around here," says Lindy. "I went to the public hearing on it and I spoke in terms of leaving it and the importance of it and the fact that it's not a LEGO piece that you can just move about. The work is far more than the concrete and the metal and the lights; the work and its power is the concept of it and you diminish its concept and capacity if you move it."

Ken Lum and Sean O'Neill walk near Lum's Monument for East Vancouver on In the Making (White Pine Pictures)

Lum, who has created many notable pieces of public art, sees the sign as having a special resonance not usually seen. "It's rare for an instance of public art to accrue a high degree of cultural capital."

"But obviously, in a contest between cultural capital and monetary capital, maybe the city's not mature enough to understand that the former is as valuable — if not more valuable at times — than the latter."

In the Making takes you on an immersive journey inside the lives and work of Canada's leading artists. Stream the whole season now on CBC Gem, or watch it on CBC-TV Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. (9 p.m. NT).