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POULSEN: Public art: the good, the bad and the money

December 10, 2015 - 8:14 AM

There are two pictures of artwork on this page.

One is a sculpture donated by the Westbank First Nation to Big White last week. It was done by native artist Smoker Marchand and depicts a grizzly bear, coyote and Ogopogo.

The other is a sketch of what was to eventually come from Penticton artist Johann Wessels.

It was part of the The Fossils from the Future series. It was described as 'the last twig from last known living tree'

They have one thing in common. Both public art.

Of differences, there are obviously many.

Kelowna council approved the twig project but not all members were happy.

Coun. Brad Sieben said approval might leave council with "egg on our faces," perhaps giving Wessels an image for his next project.

This latest Wessels is a capsule containing "a fossilized mass of cellular phones," according to the Kelowna Art Gallery.

The inspiration for this phone meltdown may have come from taxpayers phoning city hall and breathing fire over the $15,000 cost of the project.

(I looked at Wessels' webpage. To be fair, he does some interesting stuff. We all have bad days, including the majority of city councillors).

Image Credit: Submitted

Last month, the city put on a workshop about its public art program.

Pat McCormick, the city's urban design planner, will present findings to council in February, but a few items have already come out of it.

Asked to rate on a 1-to-10 how satisfied participants are with the program, most came in at a 6 to 8.

It's not unusual that no one voted a 9 or 10. Debate is inevitable when it comes to art. There are probably people who don't like The Mona Lisa.

People didn't want any more "plop" art. The definition of plop art isn't perfectly clear, but I'll go with the one that suggests something ugly, formless and meaningless, i.e., bad abstract art.

It can also mean art that isn't relevant to the location, as with The Dolphins at Waterfront park.

People like sculptures - 3D art - and want more electric or digital pieces, like the much-admired bear that lights up in Stuart Park. Also more participatory art, which, I confess, I don't understand.

There were suggestions that there be more art visible in traffic circles and along highways.

This is a terrible idea. The issue of distracted driving has become so much a part of the culture we need a sculpture about it.

All art on roadways should be moved. I'd start with the "tribute to razor wire" on the east end of the Bennett Bridge. I'd plop it in the middle of the lake.

I like the "horse and rider" on 97 in West Kelowna, but giddee-on-up to some place it can be enjoyed for more than possibly three deadly seconds.

Last month's workshop was the first to involve more than the usual subjects from the arts community. It was also open to 31 members of the wider public and all seats were taken.

That's good but McCormick concedes it still wasn't a statically valid survey.

Here's another idea, keeping in mind the workshop's wish for more digital and electric etc. and, of course, this is 2015!

The city has over 60 pieces of public art. Do up a webpage with pictures of a dozen of them, representing a wide variety of forms, and ask the public to rate them on a scale of one to five paint brushes.

It would be fun and there would be thousands of participants.

This is a tricky. No one wants to let the city's artistic future be decided by just those people who know that Michelangelo did the velvet version of Dogs Playing Poker.

He didn't? Oh. OK.

But a little statistically valid guidance from the taxpayer should fall somewhere in the deliberations.

— Chuck Poulsen can be reached at poulsenc30@hotmail.com

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