Vancouver Biennale public art series comes to Squamish 

Sculptor Hugo Franca first, followed by Painter Victor Muniz and sculptor Konstantin Dimopoulos

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Squamish has joined the Vancouver Biennale of Public Art.

This is the third biennale, which runs for two years. A biennale is a major show of contemporary art, held every two years usually global in scope. Sixty international artists have been invited to take part around the Lower Mainland in two-to-six-week residencies from 2014 to 2016 — and now the Sea to Sky region is involved.

Brazilian wood sculptor Hugo Franca arrived in Squamish on March 19 for two weeks, the first of three renowned international artists to work on and display public art in the community over the next two years.

A reception for Franca will take place on March 27 at the Squamish Academy of Music from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The plan put in motion a year ago by local artist Krisztina Egyed, who contacted Vancouver Biennale representatives. Many of the plans for the biennale are still developing, she says.

"It will be nice for people to go to the (downtown) site where Hugo (and his team of three) are working and see what is happening," says Egyed.

She describes herself as being "swept away" by the first Vancouver Biennale in 2007 and decided this was what Squamish needed.

"It's absolutely beyond the reach of small communities like Squamish to undertake a project of this magnitude independently... my dream was for us to become a destination for international cutting-edge art. It didn't take long for me to realize that we were going to have to take a different approach," she says.

According to a District of Squamish (DOS) revised biennale budget document submitted to council in February, total budgeted costs of $432,846 are being shared between the biennale ($214,109), the private sector ($151,600), with a $20,000 existing commitment by the DOS. Further pending financial commitments include $47,437 from the DOS, private donations of $22,500 and further private sector involvement worth $11,700.

Following Franca to Squamish in 2014 will be Brazilian painter Vic Muniz. Egyptian-born artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, who now resides in New Zealand, will follow them. Dimopoulos participated in the 2009 Vancouver Biennale with his Blue Tree installation, which he is bringing to Squamish in 2015.

Up to 20 other artists will work shorter residencies in Squamish. Six have confirmed so far, Egyed said. All artists will be billeted at Quest University.

"The community fundraising was so successful that we were able to tag on all kinds of extra things, like the artists' residencies at Quest. They've been huge supporters," Egyed says.

"I'm so happy. It is so satisfying to realize a dream like this. I am so proud of our community and the interest they've taken."

Miriam Blume of the Vancouver Biennale says Squamish joins New Westminster and North Vancouver as new regional locations.

"A major, major artist is about to land in Squamish," Blume says. "(Egyed) came to us a few years ago. She is a big lover of contemporary art and without her this could never have materialized."

Blume says Squamish "rose to the occasion" with a lot of community support.

Visitor numbers, over the two-years each biennale runs, can come to "several millions," she adds. "The artists we have brought there have been blown away. The natural beauty... it's been wonderful," Blume says. "We're very excited about Squamish because we think this gives a world-class reason to get off the highway as you're driving to Whistler... We really to expect that from a cultural tourism perspective it will put Squamish on the map."

Sabina Foofat, planner for the DOS, calls the town's inclusion in the Vancouver Biennale "a huge thing."

She says: "(Egyed) came to the district in April 2013 with a proposal to bring the biennale to Squamish that was in line with our centennial celebrations for renaming the community 'Squamish.' We've had a lot of cohesion in terms of the Squamish Arts Council and the community coming together.

"(Egyed) has done so much legwork bringing the community on board."

Foofat says Squamish Council had originally committed almost $20,000 for Muniz's project, and working with Egyed, staff looked at other ways to grow the program, which is how Franca and Dimopoulos came to be included.

"For a variety of reasons the focus has been on outdoor recreation in terms of who we are as a community for quite some time. We're due to put some emphasis on arts and culture and I think there is a lot of support around that," Foofat says. "Staff took the ideas to council in December... now there is the artists-in-residence program. And meanwhile, (Egyed) was madly fundraising from all kinds of private sources, which was amazing. The community sponsorship part is substantial."

Footfat said locations for the public artworks are yet to be determined.


Speaking of Quest University


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