British Columbia

Vancouver's giant sparrows getting much needed repairs

Vancouver's The Birds is in need of serious repair thanks to the attention the enormous sparrows get from children and skateboarders. The statues are about to be removed for the winter to get much needed work done.

'I feel like it's an interesting case of a piece being loved to death,' says public art manager

The Birds at the Olympic Village in Vancouver have sustained serious damage thanks to the attention they get from children and skateboarders. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Two giant birds that tower over a square in Vancouver's Olympic Village will be heading south for the winter to get some much-needed repairs. 

The sparrow statues, named simply The Birds, are in need of a serious fix thanks to their unexpected use as playgrounds, according to Vancouver's manager of public art, Eric Fredericksen.

"Kids love climbing on them, more significantly skateboarders have found that one of the birds in particular, the male sparrow, is in a great place to ollie up onto or skate off of," Fredericksen said.

"Ollie" is a skateboarding move where the rider and board leap into the air without the use of hands.

Families and skateboarders love interacting with The Birds at Olympic Village in Vancouver, according to the city's manager of public art. (Stephanie Mercier/CBC )

Fredericksen says the statues, installed in 2010, were made out of a combination of foam, paint and a covering over a frame of metal. 

All the activity over the years has taken a toll and the coating has started to crack and let water in. 

Coming back stronger 

So The Birds will be taken down sometime this fall, shipped south to Surrey to have the cracks repaired, then moulds will be made and both statues recast in aluminum over a new steel frame.

Fredericksen expects this will give them a much longer life. 

The tail of the male sparrow in particular has been damaged by skateboards and climbers. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

When The Birds return — sometime before Vancouver hosts the 27th International Ornithological Congress next August — they will be just as interactive as they are now. 

"It's not a museum," Fredericksen said, "We expect that when we put things out in the public realm that people are going to get handsy with it."

People at the Olympic Village on Tuesday agreed that part of the joy of public art is the ability to interact with it.

"I think the whole point of art is to invite us to explore and engage in the artists' expression of who they are and what they're trying to share," said Madelyn Mulvaney. "I think to make it interactive is really a beautiful invitation."

Jeff Oddleifson said he has seen the damage to the male sparrow's tail but feels it's fitting.

"You look at birds in the wild they're often a little bit damaged too ... I get joy out of watching a bunch of kids climb up and down it," he said. 

At approximately 50 times the size of live sparrows, The Birds at Olympic Village in Vancouver are a big attraction. (Stephanie Mercier/CBC)

Incorporating interaction

The artist herself is also thrilled with the way the birds have become part of the life of the area. 

Myfanwy Macleod says she hadn't given much thought to how people would interact with the statues before they were installed, since it was her first piece of public art. 

"I'm super happy about it," Macleod said in an interview. "Whenever I'm down there, it's always so great to see kids interacting with them."

She adds that some of her later works have incorporated the idea of play into the design, particularly Playtime, an installation at the B.C. Children's and B.C. Women's Hospital and Health Centre that was a collaboration with fellow artist Shannon Oksanen.

Playtime is a sculpture installation at the B.C. Children’s and B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre that was a collaboration between artists Myfanwy MacLeod and Shannon Oksanen. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

The repair bill for The Birds comes with a budget of around $400,000. That's between two and four times more than the city typically spends all year to maintain and repair public art, but Eric Fredericksen says the works are among the most damaged pieces in the city's collection.

The money will be coming from a reserve maintenance fund that Fredericksen says is usually made up of contributions from developers. 

He adds public art is usually expected to last about 30 years, "so amortized over the life of the piece, it's actually not that much money."