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Bringing art into the public eye

Progress and plans for public art discussed at recent community forum

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You may pass by them every day on your way to work or on a stroll through the village and not even notice.

But if you really look around, you’ll notice Whistler has a great deal of public art on display, from the bronzed objects lining the Sightings Art Bridge in Village North to the banners fluttering in the breeze.

Kevin McFarland, Parks Planner for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, says the municipality’s public art projects are part of an overall program, headed by the Public Art Committee, started over 10 years ago to bring the arts to the community.

“The program has been around since about 1997, and in the course of that, the most substantial concentrated area were some early projects related to Village Park that extend from in front of Millennium Place all the way to the highway,” explained McFarland.

The creation of art in the village is a component of the Village Enhancement Strategy, and is funded through the hotel tax.

On Tuesday evening, the Public Art Committee held a drop-in forum in the multipurpose room at the new library, with hopes of attracting foot traffic from the library. The forum featured displays of public art pieces already in place throughout the village and Creekside, like Carlos Basanta’s Storyteller’s Chair installed at Village Park West in 2000.

It’s been a few years since the committee has held an event like this, and McFarland is hoping the forum will allow the community to learn about past and current public art projects.

“It’s raising awareness of the program, of the collection we’ve developed out there,” said McFarland. “But the most immediate thing is that we have an upcoming sculpture competition we want to make people very aware of.”

The committee is currently tendering for the second installation of the Village Square sculpture project, to be exhibited in Village Square and Village Gate Boulevard.

The first sculpture was commissioned in 2005, and the completed Three Wishbones Three Wishes piece first appeared at the sites in the village in 2006. It has since been moved to the Village Gate Boulevard Lawn, as the first work in a collection that will line the gateway to the village.

The maximum budget for the next phase of the project is $30,000, which has to cover artist and design fees, as well as all other costs associated with the project.

McFarland points out that artists working in two-dimensional media don’t usually have as much of an opportunity to participate in public art projects, because sculptures are more practical. But he says the committee is trying to create opportunities for photographers and painters.

A mural underneath the Lorimer Road bridge by Chili Thom and Stan Matwychuk has acted as a test case, and so far, has passed with flying colours, with the committee looking at other places it could create similar projects.

“We have a number of those kind of anonymous, under the bridge kind of spaces, that are part of our pedestrian network,” McFarland explained.

Information about other upcoming opportunities, such as adding to the neighbourhood Valley Trail project, a new banner project, and inserts for five bus shelters throughout the village, was also presented at the forum, along with tips on being shortlisted for competitions.

McFarland adds that the private sector has taken a cue from the Public Art Committee initiatives, pointing to the Four Seasons, Chateau Fairmont, and Intrawest, who have all commissioned some “substantial” pieces for their properties in recent years.

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