Celebrated international artist Ken Lum has joined a growing chorus of voices calling on the provincial government to save Gladstone secondary school in East Vancouver.
Lum is a Gladstone grad, who created the famous Monument for East Vancouver, known colloquially as the East Van cross.
It looms large over VCC-Clark Station near the corner of Clark Drive and Great Northern Way.
Gladstone and Britannia are the only two secondary schools on a preliminary Vancouver school board list of a dozen schools that could be eliminated. The province has forced the district into considering closing schools because its enrollment ratio falls below a mandated requirement of 95 percent to qualify for provincial funding for seismic upgrades. Only one of the 12 schools is on the West Side.
“Any math that involves empty seats as a percentage of capacity—I read a 95% occupancy edict—can be a distortion that omits the consideration of genuine needs and just how many students and adults are being served,” Lum wrote. “I’m reminded of the expression often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli (by the way, like Gladstone, another British Prime Minister): ‘There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics.’ I don’t want to get into the ideology of why so many schools in East Vancouver have been targeted for shuttering, but it is hard not to.
“It strikes me as collective punishment towards people who choose to disagree with the government and who feel the government takes no interest in them,” Lum continued. “The decision to shutter schools can only harden this belief among many people there. The thought that comes to my mind [is] of former Premier Bill Bennett’s sobriquet of ‘bad British Columbians’.”
Lum’s paternal grandfather was an immigrant and a labourer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, but couldn’t afford to bring family members from China because of Canada’s $500 head tax in the early part of the 20th century. In an interview with the Georgia Straight in 2011, Lum said his Monument for East Vancouver was created to highlight not only the divide between Vancouver’s east and west sides, but also “about travel across time, across space, in the city, by different peoples”.
He lives in Philadelphia where he’s a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s school of design. His art has been shown around the world, including in Vienna, Shanghai, Istanbul, and Moscow. In 2011, there was a major retrospective of his work at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Gladstone secondary is renowned for its arts education, which includes an award-winning dance program. The school provides free dance education to more than 200 kids per year.
Gladstone and two other schools on the school board’s list, Graham D. Bruce elementary and Sir Guy Carleton elementary, are in the provincial constituency of Vancouver-Kingsway, which is represented by NDP MLA Adrian Dix.
On September 12, he joined parents on a yellow bus that travelled from the East Side to the school board office with petitions signed by 11,644 people demanding that Gladstone, Bruce, and Carleton remain open.
“The 95 percent criteria doesn’t make sense,” Dix told the Straight at Graham Bruce before the school bus arrived. “Other school districts, such as Calgary, are looking at 85 percent because you need extra rooms in schools.”