Notes from the arts world

City planning Olympic public art program

Details of a civic Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program emerged last week when a request for expressions of interest (EOI) in managing the project appeared on the City of Vancouver's bidding-opportunities Web page (

The EOI request, which appeared October 31, suggests the City has not made any additional budgetary provisions for the Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program. The document states that "budgets are limited and creative allocation of existing program dollars will be necessary to realise the Plan. Partnerships will be sought to supplement the City's existing Public Art budgets."

In addition, the EOI request indicates that most of the city's artists will not be eligible to take part in the public art project. The document reads, in part, "The intention is to develop and deliver fewer but significant projects of the highest calibre rather than many small projects."

The plan describes two types of commissions: permanent artworks billed as "Legacy Art Projects", and "Celebratory and Interactive Art Projects, meant to activate public spaces".

Sue Harvey, managing director of cultural services for the City of Vancouver, told the Straight the EOI request was the first step in taking the idea of an Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program to council.

"We have a public art program and we have a public art budget. So the question is how we would manage it and what the opportunities would be, so we need the expertise to come and help us identify that and move that forward," she said. "Certainly the expectation would be that the city already has a public art program and we would continue to have that public art program now and through 2010.”¦We'll look for pulling our existing project out of our next capital plan and look at the partnerships that are there as a result of the Olympics and partnerships we might develop with VANOC and others."

2010 Watch spokesperson Chris Shaw told the Straight he wasn't surprised by the EOI request's contents.

"One of the pillars of Olympism is supposed to be the arts, so it gets tossed into the mix each and every time as a way to get the arts community onside," he said. "Each and every time it falls short, and they run out of money and they end up doing these much shorter and much less well-funded projects than they had originally planned." He added: "What they'll do is look for a very, very high-profile artist, give the bags of money to them.”¦and the artists at the lower end, the younger artists who are starting out, will find nothing, and yet they were the ones who were crucial to supporting the bid in the beginning."

Irwin Oostindie, general manager of Gallery Gachet, noted that the city, along with VANOC and the federal and provincial governments, endorsed the Inner-City Inclusive Commitment Statement that included the objective to "showcase the diverse cultural, multicultural, and aboriginal activities of inner-city residents".

"The art sector was anticipating the launch a year ago of an arts table to make sure that the benefits actually do involve and employ as many local artists as possible," Oostindie said. "We're still waiting."

Although the EOI request states that local, regional, national, and international artists will be commissioned for public art projects, Harvey insisted that artists living in the inner city will be able to get involved. "The opportunity exists for that in all of the programs," she said. "We're talking about a range of projects, and I would note that inner-city residents include some of our very best artists."

Helen Lenskyj, University of Toronto sociologist and author of two books about the impact of the Olympics, was critical of the public art plan. "They're going to try to make do and spread existing dollars more thinly or give to what they see as a deserving group and let others go without," she told the Straight. "If there's no new money injected, that's not a good prospect for artists and people in the arts who are depending on those kinds of grants.”¦It isn't the role of a city council to give money to an international artist or even a Canadian or even a B.C. artist. Surely the city council should be distributing scarce money to local artists."


Legal rumblings begin over York Theatre

Tom Durrie, the former general manager of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, is bringing in the big guns in his campaign to preserve the 94-year-old former York Theatre on Commercial Drive, despite the facility's having been purchased on October 5 by an unknown buyer.

"The Save the York Theatre task force is seeking legal counsel to investigate means of preventing demolition or redevelopment of the site, plus the possibility of working with the new purchaser to see the theatre developed," he told the Straight .

Durrie said he was tipped off by someone at city hall that the theatre's new owner has been making inquiries about development permits for the site.

Because the 470-seat purpose-built theatre is not listed as a heritage site, the city is limited in what it can and cannot allow in terms of its development, Jacqueline Gijssen, senior cultural planner for the City of Vancouver, told the Straight .

"It's private property, so the owner has the ability.”¦to do what they want to do within the framework of the policy of the city and what's allowable for that site. Would we like it preserved as a theatre? Sure.”¦Does the city have tools and mechanisms? In terms of heritage stuff, there are tools and mechanisms, but this building isn't on the heritage register."

Durrie is asking those concerned about the future of the York Theatre to send e-mails to with copies to .

Links: City of Vancouver bidding opportunities official site
E-mail the City of Vancouver