Pillars with designs painted on them by local artists would help beautify the uptown, says public art advocate and South Port businessman Kevin Wright.
Wright, who owns Steampunk Cafe on Third Avenue, is spearheading a public art project in the South Port, or uptown area of Port Alberni.
If the plan materializes, Wright’s idea would see 12 cement pillars placed at strategic points between the Rollin Art Centre on Eighth Avenue down to Kingsway Avenue. Each pillar would be adorned with a design by a local artists, in essence creating a 1,500-foot-long outdoor gallery.
“It will always be there, will engage the public and showcase the work of local artists,” Wright said. “It’s also about beautifying the community and taking some ownership of the art pieces.”
Wright has had cursory discussions with city council, he said. “It’s city property so the city would have to build the pillars.”
Wright is looking for a $10,000 investment from the city, and is applying for $100,000 from other sources. “I think $20,000 would be a good start,” he said.
One grant that has been applied for is specifically for art projects that are a mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal art, he added.
The area is in the embryonic stage of developing into an arts hub and the project would go a long way in adding life to it.
“Rollin does good stuff, Char’s Landing does some amazing things, there’s the Capitol Theatre and the [Pacific Rim] Gallery too,” Wright said.
The problem is that in addition to being places of art they are also places of business, which operate according to business hours.
“People from out of town are directed uptown to see these places after hours and nothing’s open. Where’s the art?” Wright asked.
The idea of public art on city spaces was sparked in Wright’s mind during a conversation with Catalyst manager Fred Chinn, who came to Port Alberni from Longview, Wash.
There, the city provides spaces for sale to local artists to place public art pieces, Wright said.
The pillars would comprise different mediums and would be from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists.
“That best reflects the composition of the arts community here in the Valley,” Wright said.
Artists would have free creative reign but would have to abide by three rules: one, that the piece not be offensive to any race, creed or colour; two, it has to be safe for the public to interact with; and three, that the construction be of good quality and finish.
A steering committee will be established to oversee the project.
“The rules apply to the committee as well,” Wright said.
“It will prevent them from strangling the artists’ creativity.”
In the long term, Write said he sees a time when groups such as Catalyst or the Port Alberni Port Authority or other firms can buy public art pieces from along the corridor and donate them to an art park.
Wright says he has been cautioned about the pieces being vandalized but isn’t sold that they’ll immediately be set on by bands of roving hoods.
“I’ve had my deck outside my store for several months now and its hasn’t been broken, scratched or burned.”
If any of the public art pieces were damaged, it would be an opportunity for the arts community to show ownership over them by seeing to their repair.
“Many artists have done public art already and know what to expect,” he said.