SkyTrain public art spending under review

TransLink chair defends concept of beautifying stations

The Birds are two giant 18-foot sparrow statues in southeast False Creek

TransLink is reviewing its practice of spending significant sums on public art to beautify SkyTrain stations after criticism of its priorities.

Board chair Nancy Olewiler defends the concept of paying to put art in parts of the transit system, but says the policy for selecting works and the amounts to be spent is being reconsidered.

TransLink has so far approved spending $615,000 for three public art installations at Metrotown, Commercial-Broadway and Main Street-Science World as part of Expo Line SkyTrain station upgrades.

The transportation authority is also expected to consider art installations for Surrey Central and Joyce-Collingwood stations.

“We’re very mindful of the need to pinch every penny,” Olewiler said, adding it’s too soon yet to say if the art pieces already commissioned are too costly or not.

“I’m totally in favour of the concept,” she said, adding she’d incorporate gardens as well if it were up to her.

“As we urbanize we want public spaces to be welcoming and accommodating. People want to see that their city isn’t just turned into giant blocks of concrete.”

Spectacular art has made YVR a wonder of the airport world, she noted.

“It makes people much happier waiting for that plane flight,” Olewiler said. “And we want people to be happy on SkyTrain too.”

The director of SFU’s school of public policy argues public art can serve more purposes than just pleasing the eye.

She said research by criminologists suggests the addition of public art can help make crime-prone areas not just more welcoming but also safer and more secure.

Olewiler noted municipalities pay for public art all the time.

The latest, a $100,000 seven-foot-tall white poodle statue on Vancouver’s Main Street, was partly funded by TransLink and met mixed reviews.

Other prominent pieces include two immense 18-foot bird statues in southeast False Creek. Olympic Village developers covered the $600,000 cost.

Surrey also has an ambitious five-year plan for public art, which calls for the city to spend $3.4 million and have developers chip in another $3 million.

TransLink’s art policy review began early this spring in response to ongoing management-led efforts to cut costs, Olewiler said. Art for the initial three stations had already been approved but there’s no word yet on what designs will be used.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said she thinks most transit riders would rather see the money spent on improved buses and transit, not public art.

“It really is totally inappropriate,” Jackson said. “The TransLink people are always crying for money from local government. But on the other hand they’re spending money as if it comes from a bottomless pit.”

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