Thirty years ago the Public Art Program began at the City of Vancouver. It has supported local talent with 88% of civic commissions ,100% of neighbourhood grant projects and 75% of private development commissions being awarded to local artists.
One of the most talked about pieces of public art in Vancouver is Ken Lum’s large and recognizable “Van East Cross” located near 6th Avenue and Clark Drive. The Van East Cross was installed in 2010 and was part of the 2010 Winter Olympics Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program, Mapping and Marking.
But one of the issues~and it has come up with the Van East Cross~what happens in a densifying city when a public art hallmark is going to be overshadowed?
The Van East Cross was built on a lot purchased by the City along with several others to secure the Millennium SkyTrain Line and access to Clark Drive and the Vancouver Community College Station. When the sculpture was placed on the lot, the City’s Real Estate Department worried about the loss of investment potential in the land’s purchase and the fact that those funds could have been used for other public benefits. But what happens when a public art sculpture on a city lot is overshadowed by other development in the area?
Nature’s Path is building a 125,000 square foot eight storey structure for 1,200 employees at 2102 Keith Drive, at the corner of East Sixth Avenue close to Clark Drive. The architectural firm DIALOG is working on the building. Artist Ken Lum has been contacted about relocating the sign, or placing it on top of a building so that it can maintain its iconic exposure. Mr. Lum has refused this but the architect is working to maintain views of the cross from the northwest to the Expo SkyTrain line according to the CBC.
While the City of Vancouver maintains that Mr. Lum knew that this adjacent site would eventually be redeveloped, Lum expressed “his concerns about how a tower would block people’s views of the glowing cross from some angles. I wrote back and said if they develop this site then basically this piece is over.”
Meanwhile Nature’s Path, which ironically has been in the City of Vancouver just as long as the Public Art Program and wants to be a good neighbour responded: Nature’s Path values Ken Lum’s East Van Cross and has been working with the building’s design team since purchasing the land to ensure it remains a vibrant part of the community.”
What needs to happen? Do public art installations need to explicitly state that they will may eventually be overshadowed by area development, or may be relocated? What happens when the piece of land that a public art installation is located on becomes valuable as civic developable land in a densifying city? Where is the balance between maintaining views to public art and other civic goals of affordability and accessibility?