Bike or walk your way through self-guided public-art tours that turn Vancouver and area into outdoor gallery

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      If you’re craving a cultural fix, but COVID has you sticking to the great outdoors, a host of self-guided biking and walking tours are waiting to show you a new world of public art.

      So while you may be well-acquainted with the giant sparrows in Myfanwy MacLeod’s sculpture The Birds in Olympic Village or the howling mass of bronze figures in Yue Minjun’s A-maze-ing Laughter at English Bay, there are dozens of lesser-known but equally enticing creations tucked along the region’s pathways and bike routes.

      Grab your smartphone, your sunblock, and, if you’re so inclined, your two wheels: here are a few artfully minded tours to take on your next day out.

      Marcus Bowcott'sTrans Am Totem near Science World, part of the Vancouver Biennale's public art legacy.
      Vancouver Biennale


      Vancouver Biennale offers 12 unique, self-guided GPS routes through the city’s neighbourhoods, highlighting great public art, architecture, and layers of local history until August 30. You can register for $5 to get access to all of the new routes that get unveiled each weekend. The Ride With GPS app allows registrants to follow the BIKEnnale/WALKennale paths, guided by a friendly turn-by-turn voice. And note that the bike-share service Mobi by Shaw Go offers free 24-hour passes to registered participants on each Sunday during the event.

      Artworks of interest: Marvel at works that the biennial public-art celebration has brought to the city: Chinese artist Michael Zheng’s The Stop, a series of stop signs with their backs painted pink, at Alberta Street and West 3rd Avenue; or Brazilian artist José Resende’s WOW Westminster, a gigantic red W built from four cantilevered shipping containers along New Westminster’s riverside walk.


      Gathie Falk’s 18 Pairs of Blue and White Running Shoes at West 35th and Cambie.
      Maureen Smith

      City of Vancouver self-guided public-art tours

      The City of Vancouver has handy maps to follow by phone, complete with pictures and details about the pieces you discover. Self-guided tours include the downtown waterfront area and Yaletown.

      Artworks of interest: Check out Samuel Roy-Bois’s Still Standing, a 2019 installation at 1750 Pendrell Street—a folding screen made up of aluminum “shingles” that recall the cedar shakes of old West End houses, First Nations plank houses, and fish scales. And now’s your chance to see the latest public artwork by West Coast legend Gathie Falk: 18 Pairs of Blue and White Running Shoes, at West 35th Avenue and Cambie Street, is lined up along a concrete planter wall in a Washington Properties development. Installed with two other sculptures by the artist on the site (900 Oranges and 10 Baseball Caps), it illustrates her ability to raise everyday objects into high art, repeating the imagery to comment on ideas of gender and status. And don’t miss Peter Gazendam’s A Long Conversation (For Oona), his 2017 series of larger-than-life bronze banana slugs, installed in and around Columbia College’s Terminal Avenue campus.


      The City of North Vancouver's Nebula Garden, by Claudia Cuesta and Bill Baker.

      North Shore public art map

      With its own ever-expanding array of conversation-starting public artworks, the city offers self-guided tours customized for areas like Central Lonsdale, Lynn Valley, Deep Cove, and Edgemont, complete with online map, photos, and background info.

      Artworks of interest: Claudia Cuesta and Bill Baker’s mesmerizing Nebula Garden in Lower Lonsdale is a 40-foot curved wall that features formless liquid masses shifting and changing with atmospheric conditions—a transcendent, digitally lit salute to the terrestrial and the galactic. Elsewhere, you’ll have seen, but maybe not fully appreciated, Douglas Senft’s steel cathedral in a park near Lonsdale Quay, a spidery construction that reflects the peaks of the surrounding North Shore mountains.


      John Marston's Honouring Our Cedar in North Vancouver.
      North Vancouver Culture Compass

      North Shore Culture Compass 

      Just as COVID-19 was pushing us into lockdown this spring, North Van Arts launched this user-friendly map-guide to the area’s cultural resources—including all of its public art, with helpful background info and a handy TransLink trip planner. 

      Artworks of interest: Look hard for Ken Clarke’s hidden Coho Creek—Spirits, which finds the titular creatures nestled in a bioswale alongside the Green Necklace pathway. Coast Salish carver John Marston’s Honouring Our Cedar, from 2015, is also worth a stop as you roll along the Mosquito Creek pathway—a contemporary-edged work that pays tribute to the ancient material and its importance to the region.