Public art projects spark councillor criticism

'Splat' sculpture and voluntary art contribution policy questioned

Two more developer-paid public art projects have drawn questions and criticisms from some Richmond city councillors.

After nearly choking on his glass of water when Coun. Linda McPhail said one of the projects was one of her favourites, Coun. Harold Steves said he’d soon rather be done with voluntary public art contributions from developers and have the money directed to affordable housing initiatives.

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“I think we should disband the civic art fund and put it into affordable housing,” said Steves, chair of Richmond city council’s  parks, recreation and cultural services committee.

Meanwhile, Coun. Bill McNulty questioned the policy that developers may choose how to contribute to the arts scene.

A proposal by the City of Richmond to obtain a steel sculpture, called Water #10, was rejected by the committee on Wednesday, while a Steveston-based art project was eventually accepted, but not before several questions were raised.

Water #10 is a 6.5-metre tall steel sculpture at the end of Cambie Road, along the Middle Arm Waterfront Greenway. Dava Developments and Oris Consulting proposed to purchase the Vancouver Biennale artwork, which drew mixed reviews from the public, and donate it to the city, at a value of $400,000, despite being valued at $448,000. The donation would be part of its voluntary public art contribution ($0.60 per square foot) for Parc Riviera, a large condo development in north Richmond.

McNulty said he wanted cash, not Water #10.

The city’s public art planner, Eric Fiss, explained to McNulty that, per policy, the developers have the choice of what to contribute and could simply move Water #10 to the development and call it a day. City staff advised the committee to keep it on Cambie.

“We’re easing his load,” said McNulty.

McPhail also questioned the process and voted against the proposal, despite stating “this is one of my favourite pieces of public art.”

“Sorry, I nearly choked,” replied Steves. “I call this splat,” he added.

Community Services general manager Cathryn Carlile cautioned Steves that the city’s “cultural credibility” is built on public art, which “impacts how the city is viewed.”

McPhail, Steves, McNulty and Coun. Carol Day opposed the city taking ownership of Water #10, while Coun. Ken Johnston voted in favour of it.

Meanwhile, McNulty was critical of a new piece of artwork at the old Steveston High site, now known as Kingsley Estates (a 133-unit townhouse complex).

Spirit of Steveston is a metallic fishing boat raised high above the air. 

It is to be situated on No. 2 Road, on public property, next to a new childcare centre. “This doesn’t fit on this site,” said McNulty.

All other councillors approved the $195,000-project, now set to go before city council.

Full report is here

Steveston art
Spirit of Steveston is a public art piece that will adorn a new townhouse development on the old Steveston High site. It features a fishing boat raised above the air with mock seagulls flying behind it as it enters the harbour.

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