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?


Image: TheStraight.com











  1. This land is a 1 minute walk from the last stop on the Millennium Line, which is about to be extended.

    It is a great spot for an office development, and views of the cross from downtown will not be obstructed.

    Although Vancouver is growing exceptionally slowly relative to peer cities, it is still growing by about 1% a year. We should try not to squeeze this growth rate down to zero if we wish to give people a chance to make it into the middle class. Sorry about your views.

  2. O Brother. It’s hard enough protecting mountain views. Now these people want to protect the views of a neon cross. Sweet Baby Jesus. No, no, a thousand times, no.

  3. The plan for the building has some open space between it and the cross, so it could still be viewed from that space – just not from a long distance (although its current orientation is awkward for viewing anyways).

    Personally, I think it would be better placed on the East side of Clark Drive on either side of the Cut. There it would be more readily viewed from the west side of Clark Drive. It cold also be raised to increase prominence from a distance.

    One obvious question –
    Didn’t the City get a Waiver of Moral Rights from Ken Lum as a condition of commissioning and purchasing the work?
    If so, then the City can do as it pleases to relocate the work, as Mr. Lum would have waived any rights to the “integrity” of the work (meaning the City could modify or remove it as it sees fit), and any consultation would simply be a courtesy to the artist (not a requirement).

  4. “One of the most talked about pieces of public art …”
    That’s hilarious.
    Talked about by whom?
    Certainly not by we East Siders.
    Must be those West Siders who get a frisson when they pass by the BOW/MAC TOYS ‘R US sign. That thing is ugly f’ing ugly; and stupid. A symbol of what? Homage to a slimy car dealership? And a money-grubbing failed US corporation. Layers of garbage on a massive upturned finger.
    Or is it those idiots wearing Canucks jerseys? Looking for an identity outside of their empty lives.
    We residents of the fabulous East Side don’t give a rat’s ass.
    It is a purloined symbol writ large. So what.
    A view cone to a neon sign … You can’t make this stuff up.
    It could be a useful directional tool if it were placed elsewhere.

  5. Surly the Artist Ken Lim has the last word from this prominent city view location, an unimpeded view of his art, art that performs across vast space and time, creating a virtual neighbourhood presence, across the city, making us all members of a mythical community.

    Obviously when a work of public sculpture is commissioned for a particular site selected by the “City” precisely because of the visibility of it it’s location we cannot blame the artist for destruction of the work when the City itself sells development rights directly in front of its’ newly acquired public sculpture.

    In the words of the artist, “if the city develops this site then basically this piece is over”. I agree.

    Awkward isn’t it?

    Do we seriously propose to misappropriate this work to the top of the offending obstruction?

    Do we seriously propose “protected views”, a.k.a. left over view slots?

    Let’s try to understand a few things. The work is not a ‘sign’ so don’t get confused. The work is a piece of City Scale Public Art commissioned by the city for the spot upon which it stands and from which it takes its presence in the City. The City gave away it’s air rights when it accepted this work.

    This is monumental sculpture that commands respect.

  6. Has anyone done a comprehensive view impact study of the proposed building as it relates to the East Van cross? I strongly suspect that the impacts would not be as significant as some claim they would be.

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