Will newest, grandest public art project get two thumbs up?

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
March 3, 2018 - 6:47am
Artist Bill Frymire’s plan for the facade of the Lansdowne Street parkade.
Artist Bill Frymire’s plan for the facade of the Lansdowne Street parkade.

GOOD ON THE CITY for its newest public art project.

I’m a huge fan of public art. This week, councillors were shown plans for putting lipstick on the Lansdowne Street parkade and they were full of praise for what they saw.

“Really striking,” said Arjun Singh. “Really great,” said Donovan Cavers. “I love this,” said Tina Lange.

It’s not easy making a parkade look good but this new concept — a $166,000 one, plus a whole bunch more for other parts of the façade upgrade — passes the test. My test, anyway.

It could be the grandest public art venture yet. I’m tempted to add that, square footage-wise, it’s a bargain.

The idea is that the parkade will be cleaned and painted, and “architectural mesh” attached to the three walls visible from Lansdowne Street. Kamloops artist Bill Frymire and a crew will attach steel tiles to the mesh to create a mural representing the meeting of the waters.

The tiles in the river will move and sparkle. Like water, sort of.

The theme is anything but new, but the artistic methodology is a great idea for the parkade. I first heard of Frymire almost four years ago when an Armchair Mayor reader noticed that someone had used pieces of plastic milk cartons to weave a likeness of Terry Fox into the chain link fence at the Kamloops tennis club.

After some sleuthing, I traced it to Frymire.

Some might say parkades are supposed to be ugly, so leave them alone and save the money. But if their aesthetic disadvantages are their starkness and their size, this also creates a big canvass for somebody like Frymire.

Public art doesn’t come easy, as Kamloops has discovered. Flak jackets are standard issue for artists and selection committees, and it’s easy to make bad choices — just take a look at that giant carbuncle called Rivers at the roundabout in front of the Sandman Centre, or the big slice of cheese called Freud’s Ceiling at the TCC.

Keep in mind that when I say I’m a huge fan of public art, I mean I’m a huge fan of public art that I like.

Public art is full of trip hazards — in at least one case, literally. A fountain-and-rock thing in the plaza at the arena had to be removed after somebody fell into it and hurt themselves.

The Gaglardi statue, the Wildfire Memorial at the Civic building, the Art Symposium pieces in Riverside Park, that rusty thing I still don’t know what to call at the corner of Second and Victoria — all of them encountered detractors. The Overlanders statue at City Hall might be an exception.

A second wildfire memorial monument approved a few weeks ago ran into public objections from the start. I may even have been the first objector to go on record, pointing out the original wildfire memorial statues from 2003 were entirely funded with donations.

This new one is well-intended but it was hatched by bureaucrats behind closed doors with insufficient thought. Aside from the $100,000 tax bill, a lot of people just don’t feel another wildfire monument is needed.

(It’s behind schedule, by the way, which was predictable. The original April deadline for installation has been scrapped.)

But there are other potential hazards, too. Many years ago an artist was paid to paint a mural in the stairwell at the museum, and when somebody wanted to paint it over, it was discovered that it’s not so easy — artists have rights, and their art can’t just be erased.

Kind of like surface rights in an artists’ version of the mining act.

Could the same happen at the parkade if the City ever decides it wants to change it, or tear down the parkade? Or if it just gets worn out?

It’s not as silly as it sounds. If you look at the back wall of the Memorial Arena, you’ll see a giant graffiti-art eyesore, the brainstorm of the late City councillor Dave Gracey, rest his soul.

Gracey thought it would be a way of combatting the graffiti problem. Today, it’s a faded blemish that would be greatly improved with a solid coat of beige exterior latex.

Cavers asked about the expected longevity of the metal mural planned for the parkade. City arts manager Barb Berger assured him it will have a good, long, life expectancy.

But Lange raised another issue of practicality. What if something is built on the lot to the west of the parkade? It would render that side of the mural invisible.

Berger’s creative answer is if that happens, maybe the tiles could be moved around to the front and fill in gaps on the street side.

Hmmm. I’d say the City would be well advised to have its lawyers draw up a very tight prenup.

There remains another shoe to drop, though. It’s called the Seymour Street parkade. Another $160,000?

Could be a very interesting year, public art-wise. My only request is, please, no cheese on that.