Vancouver scouts artists to create public art for Winter Olympics
With just two years to go before the 2010 Winter Games, Vancouver's Olympic committee has begun scouting sites and artists to feature in the event's grand design.
Bryan Newson, Public Art Program Manager for the City of Vancouver, says the committee is surveying sites that are well connected with the Olympic venues as well as those in the city that the committee feels deserve attention.
"We're looking to recruit artists from every scale, national, international, and local … to the greatest extent, set the artist up to succeed," Newson said in an interview with CBC radio program Q.
Vancouver council in January agreed to allocate $1.5-million from the city's public-art reserve to help fund a $3.75-million Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program.
Newson says despite being the commissioners, for this project the Olympic committee will let artists determine what the art should be and "let the artists do their job."
Funding or siting of public art can prove controversial, leading to debates about who controls the public realm. Since visual art can be placed in public places, it can be used to provoke reaction and engage people in a critical discourse about the issues the artwork is attempting to address.
Several pieces have keyed on grave issues, and done it successfully.
The Bebelplatz site in a public square in Berlin — empty bookshelves seen through Plexiglass, big enough to hold 20,000 books — evokes the massive book burning conducted by Nazis in 1933.
Although some of Vancouver's public art might not be as traumatic, Newson says sanctioned art like Ken Lum's Four Boats Stranded: Red and Yellow, Black and White still "gets into multiple depths and layers of (Canadian) culture."
Brandon Vickerd, a sculptor and professor at York University's faculty of fine arts, isn't sure the Olympic process will lead to the best kind of public art.
"You can't get away from the fact that there is a public policy in place that dictates the type of work that happens," Vickerd told Q.
Vickerd argued that ultimately, public space should be made public to individuals and should not be controlled by the city.
"Public space is one of the last venues for artists to present art that is antagonistic," said Vickerd, and being subjected to a lengthy process of approval will often stifle the artists' vision for their final product.
Non-sanctioned art that is independently created and displayed by the artist without going through a committee structure, he says, is just as vital to Canadian culture and needs to be better supported.
He suggested arts councils and organizations make more money available to independent artists who pursue non-sanctioned art to be able to "work more immediately in the public sphere."