City of Campbell River makes largest call yet for public art submissions

City looking for artwork submissions for new Water Treatment Plant.

The city’s current water supply comes from the penstocks at the John Hart Dam. A new facility is being built to treat the water from the John Hart Lake once those penstocks are removed late next year.

Despite being extremely utilitarian in its raison d’être, the final phase of the city’s new water treatment plant up at John Hart Lake will also contain some additional contributions from the local art community.

The call has just gone out for artists interested in contributing work to the project, which will now include three totem poles to be incorporated into the external structure of the building itself, carved wooden entry doors and at least one educational mural inside the facility.

“When we were doing the design of the building, obviously we were being very sensitive to the utilitarian purpose of the building,” says City of Campbell River general manager of operations Ron Neufeld, “but we also identified that, number one, it’s in a spectacular location, right on the edge of the lake, and while it isn’t necessarily an area that will be open to the general public, it is an area that offers a real opportunity to tell the story of our watershed, and also tell a little bit of the history of the Snowden Forest, potentially some of the story of how BC Hydro has utilized the watershed and, of course, celebrate our First Nations culture and history and how these the water has played a key role for them, as well.”

They proposed the incorporation of those ideas into the building design to the architect and intended to add some more detail after the fact.

“The call that’s out right now are for those details,” Neufeld says. “It’s for three totems that will look like an integrated part of the structure and we’re looking at carving our main front entrance door, again, to tell a story that’s related to the water system in some way, shape or form.”

That sounds fairly typical for the area. There are many buildings around, after all, that incorporate First Nations carvings and totems on their exterior.

Inside the building is another story, though.

“We’re looking for some creativity within the artistic community to develop superheroes that are related to the water system in some way,” Neufeld says with a smile. “We then want to use those superheroes to tell the school groups or community groups that we’re touring through the facility the story of how we’re treating water and the functions that the different things are serving.”

Neufeld says that although the building won’t be open to the public – it needs to be carefully controlled and secured, since it will be the source of the city’s safe water supply – “it does allow us to deliver a lot of tours – to school groups in particular – and so we wanted a diverse range of stories we could tell,” Neufeld says. “These characters are intended to really allow us to connect with kids, specifically, in telling these stories.”

And that’s the whole point of incorporating the arts into the community’s infrastructure – to connect people.

“One of the things I think is really unique in bringing the arts community into these types of projects,” Neufeld says, “is that something that is strictly utilitarian (like a water treatment facility) can still have a broader role to play in terms of telling a story or demonstrating some of our local history, culture and artistic talent. It’s absolutely a functional building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add components to it that make it about more than its function.”

Chair of the city’s Public Art Committee and executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council, Ken Blackburn, says this project is a significant move forward in how the arts community and the development of the region’s infrastructure can work together.

“It’s pretty much the first time we’re going to test the relationship between the city and the Public Art Committee under the new Public Art Policy on something of significant scale,” Blackburn says. “This is really in the spirit of what the Public Art Policy was made for.”

Interested artists can submit their proposals for the Water Supply Building through the Campbell River Public Art website or email Blackburn at arts.council@crarts.ca with questions around the process.

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