Should residents have say in public art?

A series of public art projects caused a spirited debate at Langley City council on Jan. 27, with one project being given the cold shoulder.

Councillor Rosemary Wallace brought forward two reports suggesting some artworks that could be created around the community.

The first report called for five projects, all to be done before the City is a host of the B.C. Seniors Games this coming September.

The projects include artistic signage directing visitors to the Langley Community Music School and Al Anderson Memorial Pool, murals at the Langley Lawn Bowling Club, on the Douglas Park pump house, and on the washrooms the Penzer Bike Skills Park, and banners depicting musical and sports themes for 207th Street.

All the projects would cost about $53,500, plus additional funds for printing and hanging the banners, Wallace reported. There is money in the budget for public art already from fees paid by developers.

Coun. Dave Hall had some concerns, though they were not about the costs.

“I can live with the expenditure of an existing budget,” Hall said.

However, he wondered whether it should be the City council that has the final say on which artists’ proposals are turned into permanent works for the City.

He wanted more public input first.

“Perhaps in reflecting on that, maybe some changes are made,” Hall said. “Otherwise it’s just a few people at this table judging the worth of this art. And it’s public art.”

Wallace urged members of the public to contact a councillor if they have questions about te art, noted that the Recreation, Culture and Public Art Committee has members from many communities, and said the public can also spread the word to artists that the commissions will be coming.

“For me, getting these on the ground and going up is going to create some sense of belonging in this community,” said Wallace.

The report was accepted and will move forward.

A second project drew criticism from several members of the council.

The Recreation committee suggested installing a wall, essentially a chalkboard, with the words “Before I die, I want to…” at the top. Passersby would be encouraged to write down what they would like to accomplish or experience in their lives.

Hall said that at first blush, the wall’s theme seemed a little morbid.

“Then I got really thinking about how really stupid this whole idea is,” Hall said.

People will write offensive things, he said.

“What are you going to do with the people who write hate messages?” Hall said.

“Who is going to police this? Who is going to be the morality police and who is going to do this?” Halls said.

Councillors Jack Arnold and Gayle Martin shared his concerns.

“Has this been done anywhere else, and if so, did they have any problems with it?” Arnold asked.

Martin said she had Googled the similar wall in Vancouver. 

“In most cases, I think it’s very messy looking,” she said. “People are going to be writing all over it. I don’t think it’s very attractive at all.”

“Wow, I didn’t expect such a response,” Wallace said.

She said the piece would allow the public to be involved on an ongoing basis.

“We are all about public engagement,” Wallace said.

She noted that any property can be defaced.

The council voted three to three, resulting in a defeat for the project, with Wallace, Coun. Teri James, and Acting Mayor Ted Schaffer in favour.

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