Feature - Regeneration, revival and divers(cities) 

Art in the public realm

WANTED: LEGENDS

Have you played a part in Whistler’s history? Are you celebrated in the community? Do you possess a special character that is unique to Whistler? You may be exactly what we are looking for! Applicants may be events, special places, phenomena and people – living or otherwise. Please apply in confidence with two signatures of support by…

In the past month you may have seen a similar advertisement in the Whistler papers seeking legends. The call is part of the municipality’s plans to revive Village Square in the heart of Whistler. In addition to the general renovation of infrastructure, the project aims to revitalize the square through the incorporation of glass blocks housing abstract etchings of local legends: people, places, events or phenomena that have made Whistler special. Nominations have been solicited from the community in the belief that these legends are part of the collective Whistler memory and reflect why people are drawn to this place.

The municipality’s project is not just a valiant renovation project; rather it speaks to a trend that has seen increasing popularity across the continent – public art. While public art is a fairly recent addition to our little mountain community, this form of urban revival has been in action for over a century in Europe, South America, and other locations in North America.

The origin of public art goes back to post-industrialized cities that found themselves disconnected from the natural world around them. As factories, shops and apartment blocks sprang up at an exponential rate, the presence of fresh air, sunshine, and greenery diminished. In response, city dignitaries began developing urban parks and gardens, such as the well-known Jardin des Tuileries in Paris and Central Park in New York. The parks and gardens were an oasis that people could visit to escape from hectic city life and man-made environs.

Throughout human history, desires for social change have led to movements in community arts. In the 1930s, a movement emerged calling for the renewal and regeneration of cities above and beyond the green spaces offered in public parks. Public art emerged as a means of decorating cities and bringing culture to those who did not visit galleries or museums.

In the early half of the last century, public art usually took the form of a cast bronze figure riding a horse that was seldom understood or interpreted as being significant. For example, in the centre of Queen’s Park in Toronto sits a bronze equestrian statue of King Edward VII. Most Torontonians take it for granted, assuming that it refers to early Upper Canadian history or British political roots. The statue was actually erected in Delhi, India in 1919. In 1947, India gained independence from Britain and the statue, an unpleasant reminder of the city’s colonial past, was removed. Philanthropist H R Jackman purchased the horse and rider and erected them in Queen’s Park in 1968. Unfortunately, the piece has long lost its ideological intensity and now sits as an abstract focus in an otherwise open space.

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