Art in New Westminster vacant storefronts like lipstick on a pig
Re: Sprucing up empty storefronts (NewsLeader, Feb. 20)
It was with mixed feelings that I read the recent article about having the Arts Council of New Westminster hanging art in vacant storefronts on Columbia Street.
I applaud the Arts Council‘s idea. Creating spaces to display artists’ work is usually a benefit to the artists. The challenge is to find a location that will result in having the artists’ benefit realized.
To appreciate the art in the windows, one would have to be walking on Columbia Street, not simply driving by on your way to another community. The bridal stores on Columbia are an asset to the city and have created their own niche shopping experience. They pay their taxes and generate some foot traffic. Generally, however, the customers of bridal stores are there for one purpose, and after paying for their bridal dresses will not likely have extra money to buy art (which is the successful outcome for an artist).
Councillor Chuck Puchmayr said this venture was a win-win and it could be if the Arts Council treats this as a business venture and has considered all the time and costs involved (contacting building lease agents and owners, contacting artist to provide the art, hanging the art and the supplies associated with same, picking up the art, returning the art to the artists, special insurance, to name a few things).
This could be an avenue of income for the Arts Council (and in turn the artists in the form of rental fees) if the businesses feel this is a win for them (as suggested in the article) by paying a fee to the Arts Council for this service. Even still, this would be a monumental task for their one full-time employee. If, however, this is just another freebee provided by the Arts Council, the real winner by sprucing up the derelict sites would be the city.
In this instance, placing art in vacant storefronts, is really like putting lipstick on a pig: it does not disguise the fact that even with all the densification that city council has approved for Downtown, there are still no businesses fighting their way for placement on Columbia Street. The mega Degelder project (Plaza 88) does not generate “feet on the street.” It is hop-off and hop-on the SkyTrain shopping. Council needs to decide the direction of Columbia Street based on public input already provided. If it is to be a business/shopping destination, they should have made every effort to work with professionals such as the successful Uptown Property Group in developing the new civic centre and supporting business above the facility, rather than going it alone on taxpayers’ dollars.
In closing, I would counter Rick Carswell’s allegory that the vacant storefronts remind him of hockey players with missing teeth, with my own. Eventually, even hockey players with missing teeth have to seek professional help to create something more permanent to fill the gaps in their mouth.