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Editorial: Transit art is money well spent
Totally inappropriate. A waste of money. Spend it on buses instead. When word went around that TransLink had approved $615,000 for three public art installations, the public outcry was immediate.
But we say it’s money well spent.
The public art pieces are destined for three SkyTrain stations, as part of the Expo Line station upgrades. None are yet planned for Richmond’s Canada Line stations, but at least, in recent years, the Vancouver Biennale has enlivened those concrete monsters at little cost to taxpayers.
That’s what public art does. It brings life to communities.
For the most part, this has already been recognized by our elected officials at Richmond City Hall. Although they turned down the chance to buy one of the most recognized sculptures of the last Vancouver Biennale—Wind Waves, which was located at Garry Point—it has managed to push developers to bring numerous artworks to Richmond.
And council itself has opted to spend $200,000 for five to eight temporary public art installations on a half-vacant pillar at the end of the Canada Line on No. 3 Road.
That decision nary raised an eyebrow from the public. At least not yet.
Public art makes places welcoming. Transit stations that are more than just concrete become meeting places and public squares. Good public art leads to dialogue.
A world without public art is a world without the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. Richmond without public art is a city without the Steveston Fishermen’s Memorial in Garry Point Park, Water Sky Garden at the Richmond Olympic Oval or The Jade Canoe at the airport.
All these oft-photographed pieces create a sense of pride and place.
Public art can also be a boon to the economy for its ability to attract tourists and visitors. It was artist Blake Williams (creator of The River at Thompson Community Centre) who wisely once said: people don’t go to Europe just for baguettes.
The $615,000 TransLink is prepared to spend is a drop in the bucket of its $1.36-billion operating budget. If the cash is diverted to a new bus route, that would pay for a bus, with little left over to cover the $100,000 it approximately costs to operate it each year.
Backlash to the expense is normal. It’s right to question it. And it’s up to TransLink—like any other public institution—to prove its value to the public.
TransLink’s pending public art has already accomplished something most artists aim for. It has people talking.