Best of Vancouver 2016: Arts

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      Best giant golden tree

      It’s a tough choice, but if we had to pick, it would probably be Douglas Coupland’s Golden Tree statue. The Vancouver writer/artist has created a mirror image of the famous 800-year-old Hollow Tree in Stanley Park. It’s 13 metres tall and made with a ridiculous 15,875 kilograms of Styrofoam and steel reinforcement and supported by a thick fibreglass covering. Since it was installed at the busy intersection of Cambie Street and Southwest Marine Drive, a number of local residents have called its bright colour garish. But don’t try repainting the statue: it turns out Coupland covered the whole thing in an antigraffiti coating. We didn’t test that out. Honest.


      Best street for mural art

      Keep an eye out for bright colours the next time you stroll north down Main Street between East 14th and Terminal avenues. Thanks to the inaugural Vancouver Mural Festival, which took place in August, Main Street is destination number one if you’re looking to get lost in massive outdoor paintings. Detours down side streets and through a series of back alleys will reveal a refreshing kind of beautification that art nerds throughout the city have quickly grown to appreciate.


      Best place to question your province’s name

      Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s paintings and sculptures speak to the political and cultural upheaval of Canada’s First Nations, urging viewers to contemplate the cost that colonization has had for indigenous people. Yuxweluptun’s exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology, Unceded Territories, stirs curiousity about the origins of the name British Columbia, and in the book detailing the exhibit, the artist calls on viewers to come up with a more suitable name for the province. Come up with one yourself during your next visit to MOA.


      Best hope for Vancouver to temporarily replace Dublin as a literary capital

      Vancouver-born and -raised Madeleine Thien is a finalist for the Man Booker Prize for her third novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Non bookreaders probably don’t realize that the Booker is the world’s second-most-prestigious literary award after the Nobel Prize, so this is a really big deal. Nor do many people know that Dublin attracts hordes of tourists interested in learning about its famous writers, including James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Jonathan Swift. So here’s the deal: if Thien wins the Booker this October and if Douglas Coupland manages to stay famous for a few more years—and if Tourism Vancouver tells the world that Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Lowry, James Clavell, Joy Kogawa, and Alice Munro all lived here—who knows what might follow? We could even get a Vancouver literary tour to go along with all those craft-beer tours. Go, Madeleine!


      Canadian graffiti includes a neatly scrawled Canada across a wall and a beautifully embellished reminder to “look after yourself”.
      Maddison Heisler


      Best Canadian graffiti

      International graffiti tends to have a certain flavour—that is to say, badly drawn cock pictures and the word fuck written in different languages. Canadian graffiti is very different. Vancouver examples include a neatly scrawled Canada across a wall, and a beautifully embellished reminder to “look after yourself”. For sheer tenacity, though, the prize has to go to a graffito at the corner of Maple Street and West 12th Avenue, where—despite several attempts by the city to clean it off—someone continues to remind Vancouverites that “you are loved”.


      Best new (and newish) arts festivals

      Vancouver Mural Festival
      Held in August, on and around Main Street

      Finally, the city has an event that celebrates street art the way Montreal, Berlin, or Seattle does. Which is fitting, considering some of the world’s in-demand street artists live right here in Vancouver. The first one alone, held in August, has livened up the city with more than 35 permanent murals.

      Façade Festival
      Held in early September at the Vancouver Art Gallery

      Just finished its second year, this Vancouver Art Gallery and Burrard Arts Foundation collaboration uses artists’ projections to turn the entire front face of the old courthouse on Robson Street into a living, moving, monumentally scaled artwork you can see from blocks away. Extra props for a list of participating artists that has so far included computer animator Barry Doupé, web innovator Chris Shier, and digital mavericks WALLPAPERS.

      Vines Festival
      Held at Trout Lake Park in August

      This truly grassroots East Van happening shows eco art in every possible manifestation, pushing into the highly conceptual, the performance-art based, and the provocative. The fest, in only its second year, avoids the literal and is full of surprises and wonder. That’s what it will take to wake people to the enviro crisis at hand.

      Vancouver Opera Festival
      April 28 to May 18, 2017, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre plaza

      Okay, admittedly, we’re still waiting to see how this one turns out, and the announcement that the opera wasn’t going to be holding a regular season of shows provoked a sizable outcry. But we think this big late-spring celebration is on the right track, with plans to animate the entire site, utilizing both the Queen E. and Playhouse theatres, as well as a giant tent on the plaza, huge projections, cinema, visual art, food, and drink. Strong programming like Otello and Dead Man Walking helps.


      Best sign the city’s dancers aren’t afraid to get their feet dirty

      Whether it was gravity-defying Aeriosa Dance scaling a towering grove of trees in Stanley Park during the Dancing on the Edge festival or Ballet BC turning the Queen Elizabeth plaza into reimagined Babylonian hanging gardens, a lot of performances have been happening alfresco this year. One of the highlights was the latter troupe’s appearance at Small Stage’s Live at the Bolt, at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, where Ballet BC artists perched on bobbing lake docks amid lily pads, danced barefoot in the grass, and donned forest-creature masks in the woods.


      Dance artist Crystal Pite is set to unveil a piece for more than 50 dancers calledThe Seasons’ Canon this September.


      Best ambassador for Vancouver’s arts

      Guess what dance artist Crystal Pite is doing on September 26. Opening the Paris Opera Ballet season with a new work, that’s all. Now considered one of the foremost choreographers in the world, she’s ready to unveil a piece for more than 50 dancers called The Seasons’ Canon. And, yes, it’s just the big damn deal it sounds. The international press is already descending to preview it. Next March, she creates a work for the equally esteemed Royal Ballet—making her the first woman to create a main-stage work at that U.K. institution in 18 years. On top of all that, the Kidd Pivot director also serves as associate choreographer at Nederlands Dans Theater, and Betroffenheit, the unforgettable dance-theatre work she created with Electric Company’s Jonathon Young earlier this year, will continue to move audiences from Barcelona to Belgrade on tour into next year.


      Best news for redheads since Lindsay Lohan dyed her locks brown

      Natural redheads everywhere have been hard at work rebuilding their brand since South Park’s infamous slandering of the recessive gene. Now—thanks to a new ongoing project by Vancouver-based artist Douglas Coupland that will spotlight the state of “redheadedness”—gingers may finally be poised for a comeback. Coupland’s first order of business? A large bronze bust modelled after the face of Vincent van Gogh. Suck on that, Cartman.


      Best way to get your theatre up close and personal

      Boca del Lupo’s Micro Performance Series holds its shows for 20 people or fewer, making theatre way more intimate and personal than you’d ever get in a conventional venue. We’ve seen one production where a single audience member was invited to hold the hand of an actor for 30 minutes while 11 people watched in the near dark (All Good Things). The piece was structured like a conversation, with questions, while the actor slowly revealed a traumatic event in the past—one that tied searingly in to the act of holding hands. Intense? You bet. In another show, two actors raced to see who could make friends with an audience member first (You Are It). Next month, look for Red Phone, which involves two audience members stepping into old-school phone booths and having a conversation, with the help of an operator who prompts them. In other words, not your average night out at the theatre.


      Best sign that women are breaking the glass ceiling in one industry, at least

      The prospect for women stepping into CEO positions has rarely been bleaker; a study of U.S. and Canadian businesses last year by the global consulting group Strategy& found less than three percent of last year’s incoming class of CEOs were women (“the lowest percentage since 2011”). But Vancouver’s arts industry is seriously bucking the trend: here, women are taking over the helms of major companies like never before in a realm that once was almost the exclusive domain of men. Consider Kim Gaynor, new head of Vancouver Opera; Kelly Tweeddale as president at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Kathleen Bartels at the reins of the Vancouver Art Gallery; and Emily Molnar in charge of Ballet BC. Those are some of the biggest arts organizations, but the list goes on: Bard on the Beach executive director Claire Sakaki; recently departed Museum of Vancouver CEO Nancy Noble; Vancouver Writers Festival executive director Nicole Nozick; Vancouver Recital Society artistic director Leila Getz; Dance Centre executive director Mirna Zagar and Bill Reid Gallery CEO Alexandra Montgomery. We could go on, but these culture-savvy sisters are clearly doin’ it for themselves.