We have a new downtown neighbourhood – or at least a new name for a neighbourhood.
The Chandelier District.
The blocks between the Burrard and Granville Bridges, south of Pacific, are labelled as “Beach” on some city plans, or Granville Slopes. Maybe it’s south Downtown South. Or west Yaletown east of the West End. No one calls it any of that.
The Hornby-Howe blocks serve as the squared-out equivalent of a cloverleaf off-ramp from the Burrard Bridge to get vehicles to the West End, or as a bypass to avoid Pacific. Wait til Vancouver House opens. Wait til the grocery store and other services go in under the bridge. One guess what the identifying graphic will be for this commercial hub.
Ian Gillespie of Westbank consolidated the public-art requirement to fund the $5-million price tag on Rodney Graham’s artwork. The media immediately grabbed on to a presumed controversy, thereby achieving what progressives believe art is supposed to do: create a conversation.
So far the conversation consists of a lot of swipes and doubts: bling for the rich, a slap in the face for those who can’t afford the unaffordable city, a gesture of contempt on the day after the homeless count was released. It will be vandalized. It will be a target for the stoned, the drunk, and the pigeons. It will get dust covered*.
Could the money have been better spent on housing for the homeless? Of course. So could the money we spend on flower gardens. That’s zero-sum budgeting.
Development-required public art is not, strictly speaking, funded by taxpayer dollars, nor is the extraordinary collection that comes with the Sculpture Biennale. But the perception that there’s tax dollars involved or the millions could have been better spent is a consideration when political leaders are asked to devote more to the arts and they’re wondering if they’re going to end up on the wrong side of a microphone.
Artists, on the other hand, cry out for more – more public art, more protected studio space, more galleries and even more housing. They assume the public wants a city with art and a place for them.
Fortunately, the city does. Particularly if its Instagram and selfie-friendly.
Graham did get an ideal location: lots of room for the work to breathe, perfectly balanced on all sides, high enough to avoid vehicles, with a backdrop of uninterrupted sky to the east that will not change, thanks to the park beyond.
So if not ‘Chandelier District,’ what’s better?
- *Fair warning: art with moving pieces will have to be scrupulously cleaned and maintained. This one drops and spins. Unfortunately, I can’t think of an artwork with moving pieces that still does. Except the Steamclock, and it gets a lot of care and attention.