Indigenous art on track for new Edmonton LRT transit stop

The call is going out to Indigenous artists to come up with a work of art to be displayed on the new glass transit shelters at the future Mill Woods LRT stop.

Competition launched for Mill Woods Valley Line stop

The artwork at Edmonton's new Mill Woods transit stop could be similar to this work by Cappy Thomas entitled 'I was Dreaming of Spirit Animals' on display at the Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle, Washington. (Edmonton Arts Council)

When riders on Edmonton's Valley Line LRT arrive at the future stop in Mill Woods, they'll be greeted by a new transit stop adorned with Indigenous art.

The art will capture the rich cultural heritage of the area and honour the thousands of years of history of the first people here, said Katherine Kerr, public art director of the Edmonton Arts Council, which has launched a public competition to find a winning design.

That design could be in print, paint, photography, text or drawings with the imagery to be converted onto the glass of the shelter, she said.

"We're really excited."

A transit shelter in Burien, Wash., features the work of Julie Berger. (Edmonton Arts Council)

While Edmonton is home to one of the largest Indigenous populations in the country and is committed to reconciliation, there's been repeated efforts to give the community more presence.

"We've heard this many times from the Indigenous community, that they don't see themselves reflected in the built infrastructure of the city," Kerr said. "Public art is a place where we have that opportunity to do that."

Projects such as the Grandin LRT station which features Aaron Paquette's work and Alex Janvier's tile mosaic at Rogers Place are examples of the city's effort.

Aaron Paquette's artwork on display at Edmonton's Grandin LRT station platform. (CBC News)

The Indigenous Arts Park within Queen Elizabeth Park will also feature work from Aboriginal artists.

The city has recently hired an Indigenous artist in residence and embarked on a process to give Cree names to some streets, neighbourhoods and bridges.

Alex Janvier, beside his painting Tsa tsa ke k'e, Iron Foot Place (Lydia Neufeld /CBC)

Given the new Mill Woods LRT station on the south side of 28th Avenue was part of the territory of the Papschase, the Edmonton Arts Council has been working with its Chief Calvin Bruneau on the vision for the project.

"It's huge," Bruneau said. "I've been pressing the city for a number of years for more Indigenous artwork in public spaces.

"It just shows with the proper people involved and the right mindset we can create something beautiful."

Winner to be chosen by March 2017

The deadline for submissions from Indigenous artists or artist teams living in Canada is Jan. 12.

Those who make the shortlist will find out towards the end of January. The arts council expects to select the winner by March.

We can create something beautiful- Calvin Bruneau

It's not just the increased visibility of aboriginal culture that excites the Indigenous community. The idea of telling stories through art is also appealing.

Christine Frederick said the art will create a new experience for commuters on the LRT network.

She said she's used to visitors and newcomers to Edmonton asking her where they could find Indigenous culture and people in the city.

"They would begin to see these are people that are here now and it changes how people perceive Indigenous people," said Frederick, artistic director of Alberta Aboriginal Arts and executive director of the Dreamspeakers film festival.

"It changes how they see Canada and most certainly how they see Edmonton." 

Christine Frederick describes the competition as another big step forward for reconciliation in Edmonton. (CBC News)

People will have to wait until the summer of 2019 to see the final installation, but Kerr is confident it will be worth the wait.  

"All along the line we'll have these colourful, expressive, culturally significant, place specific, (works) for people when they get on and off the stop to look at."

The $1.8 billion Valley Line LRT is Edmonton's largest ever construction project.

Being built in two phases, the line will eventually stretch 13 kilometres connecting downtown Edmonton to Mill Woods.

The city's target for completion is 2020.

The winning artwork will be displayed at the future Mill Woods LRT stop (Edmonton Arts Council)