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Arts groups want to dress up downtown with public art

But there is a sense of urgency with summer approaching
Alex Witcombe’s mural on 11th Avenue, just around the corner from the city’s “cultural precinct,” was unveiled in November 2017. Photo by John Wheat/Photo Tech Fotosource

Now that Campbell River is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and welcoming residents and visitors back to its downtown core, local arts organizations think it’s time to spruce the place up with a little public art.

“I think pride of place is key for community development,” said Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council and program manager for the Museum at Campbell River. “I think we should treat our community like we do our homes. And we know that we plant flowers, we know that we paint walls, we know that we decorate, we change furniture, we encourage kids to get involved in activities. I mean, we should be treating our community the same way.”

Blackburn was talking about revitalization of downtown Campbell River’s cultural district at a city council Committee of the Whole meeting April 26. The organizations he works for appeared before council to appeal for city support for initiatives to dress up the downtown core, focusing specifically on the area involving the Tidemark Theatre, the library courtyard and the the Campbell River and District Art Gallery – all centred by a stretch of Shopper’s Row.

“We would probably all agree that what we really need to do is talk about arts, culture and heritage in a city-wide sense, especially looking at our entry points through Willow Point, the Seawalk, into Campbellton, in the downtown and how they operate together to create an impression of the community,” Blackburn said. “But it’s not what we’re going to talk about today, we’re going to focus very specifically on what the photograph shows: the Spirit Square-library-Tidemark-(art) gallery precinct.”

Blackburn said his presentation is a reflection of what Campbell River’s key cultural organizations have been discussing for a year now and which is becoming more urgent now that things are are opening up at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, all indications are that 2022 will be a busy tourist season and people are anxious to get back out being more social and participating in community activities.

“I certainly know that from programming at the museum, we’re being overwhelmed with people signing up for everything that we’re offering. So I think we’re in for a very busy 2022,” Blackburn said.

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With people emerging from their COVID cocoons, the downtown arts organizations – and Blackburn was accompanied by representatives of the Downtown BIA who have an interest in this issue as well – want to use spaces available in the downtown core to present an image of what the heritage and culture of the community is. Blackburn was talking specifically about the Tidemark Theatre’s facade (street-facing walls), walls of the courtyard between the Tidemark and the library, the poles providing the backdrop to Spirit Square’s stage and the square itself.

Ideas for using those spaces involve banners, murals and other imagery.

“And we really are stressing that the content reflects the community. This is local work. This is identified as our culture. It can be heritage photographs, as well can be children’s art, school art, or professional artists. But we want it to reflect the community and it works within the context of the activity which we see there – live streets, Spirit Square, markets, music in the square, the gallery, library, Tidemark, all have programming,” Blackburn said. He added that First Nations cultures need to play a significant part in this.

But Blackburn said, there is a bit of a time constraint with spring already underway. There is a need to be ready by the time summer hits.

“We’ve got a window of a couple of months,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn estimated that it would cost between $25,000 and $40,000 to accommodate what they had in mind.

The concept had support from city councillors. Coun. Claire Moglove said the downtown has fallen “into a bit of disrepair.”

The public art touches not only on the whole concept of community pride but also its relationship with tourism, Moglove said.

Councillors referenced cities of a size similar to Campbell River they’ve visited that are “full of public art.” Moglove mentioned Anchorage, Alaska and Kyoto, Japan.

“We need to show our best to visitors,” she said.

Coun. Colleen Evans was of the same mind, “I really believe that when we invite people to come into our community, it’s such a great opportunity to tell our story. And right now we have these blank canvases that are available for us to tell those stories, whatever that looks like. So I love the idea of animating the downtown there’s nothing greater than, more energizing than to walk around a beautiful space that has you know, placemaking in it for art.”

A motion put forward by Coun. Moglove was passed to authorize spending up to $40,000 for these downtown initiatives with funding sources to be determined and identified in the May 9 council meeting. On May 9, council passed the motion with the identified source of funds being the Gaming Reserve.

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