Whistler’s artistic vision 

Checking in on the progress of our public art projects

click to enlarge Three Ravens James Smith’s sculptures, made from recycled bike tires, is set to be installed along the Valley Trail this spring.
  • Three Ravens James Smith’s sculptures, made from recycled bike tires, is set to be installed along the Valley Trail this spring.

It looks like Whistler is about to see a serious influx of art in its public spaces, largely because many of the bigger projects from 2008 didn't come together as scheduled. According to notes from the Public Art Committee's meetings in September and November, there were some significant delays in the implementation of 2008 public art projects, due in part to poor participation from local artists and the subsequently delayed artist selection processes.
Kevin McFarland is the Parks Planner for the Resort Municipality of Whistler and chair of the Public Art Committee.
"The participation thing is certainly a challenge, so we've restaged things and we got decent responses, so that resulted, of course, in actual delays of implementation," McFarland explained. "By virtue of restaging or extending a deadline, or whatever, we've managed to get a proper amount of ideas before the jury."
Two of the delayed projects were the Bridgehead Project, a set of four basalt sculptures created by Patrick Sullivan and slated for installation on the Ted Nebbeling pedestrian bridge spanning Village Gate Boulevard, and the 2008 Village Square sculpture, a bronze-cast bear crafted by Mike Tyler.
Once the Bridgehead sculptures were completed McFarland realized that they offered a unique, tactile experience, and encouraged members of the committee to consider installing them in another location where they could be touched by members of the public. He also pointed out that the sculptures were larger than planned, and may look out of place on the pilasters of the bridge. The committee agreed, and the search has begun for a new site for the sculptures in the village. Once they've found a new location, they hope to begin installation at the end of March or in April.
These delays were circumstantial, not systemic, but McFarland points out that the projects are very dependent on the local arts community.
"I'm kind of worried about the number of responses, because you can't predict it," he said, adding that he would like to have about 20 submissions for each project. Now, they receive about 10 and will often reissue their call for submissions in order to bring that number up.
McFarland is quick to point out that, first and foremost, they are looking for substantive ideas - quality over quantity - to invest the public's money.
Commissions for projects within the village, like the Village Square and Bridgeheads projects, were increased last year from $20,000 to $30,000 to cover artist and design fees, as well as all other costs associated with the project, which in turn has helped entice more artists to participate. The amount increased because the creation of art in the village is a component of the Village Enhancement Strategy, an initiative that is funded through the hotel tax.
The Valley Trail project, which comes from general tax revenue, has remained at the $20,000 commission.
In these times of financial and economic hardship, art funding is often the first to go. But according to McFarland, Whistler hasn't started feeling the pinch just yet, at least in the arts and culture sector.
"...arts and culture, the growth of those, is just a general good thing for a town and also as an economic generator, and have been touted in the last two elections," he pointed out, adding that part of hotel tax revenues have been set aside to reinvest in the village.
But at least one public art project is being stalled for 2009. Aside from rebudgeting to complete the 2008 Valley Trail Neighbourhood project, there have been no requests made for a future phase of the project, though McFarland said he was unsure if this was a financially motivated decision.
"I think there was also this belief that this year is going to be kind of a challenge in the village, just delivering on the Games stuff," he said.
There are also some exciting new projects on the horizon.
James Smith has been commissioned to complete the next phase of the Valley Trail Neighbourhood project, which will see the installation of the Ravens, sculptures fashioned from recycled bike tires, near the Whistler Golf Course's halfway hut.
This again, was a project that was delayed because of a poor initial response from the artistic community.
"In his submission, he actually did some pieces - they're ravens - and you would not believe what they look like using that kind of material," McFarland enthused, adding that the community will be invited to come out and help install the pieces in the spring.
The second competition for the Poets Pause Valley Trail project is also currently underway, with the jury review process set to take place in February. According to McFarland, the response from local writers has been strong.
"We've had a decent response, and as is always the case, we tend to get an avalanche at the end," he said.
Two local artists, Daniel Poisson and Corinna Haight, have been selected to complete the next bridge mural project on the Blackcomb Way Bridge underpass. They plan to commence work in the spring as well.
And aside from the RMOW's public art projects, the Whistler Arts Council is also currently working with Squamish and Lil'Wat Nations to create a collaborative art project called "Connections," which will be installed at the Peace Park by the covered bridge between the village and upper village. They're hoping to receive a grant to create a sculptural legacy for the 2010 Winter Olympics through the Arts Partners for Creative Development agency.
The Public Art Committee is also looking for new members, as seven of the ten members reach the end of their current tenure in February. Policy states that members can serve up to three consecutive two-year terms.


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