Art & Urban Renewal

Today, an idea that I’ve brought back to the valley from my years in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, where the sculptor and painter Ken Blackburn has worked for years to free sculpture from materials into sculpture of community. Like much of the Okanagan and the Okanogan, Campbell River has a surplus of unused and underused urban and industrial space. Ken has developed strong partnerships between the arts community, the arts council, the John Howard Society, a variety of public boards, the city administration, and the real estate community. His new project this winter is a partnership between the arts council, artists, a landlord, and a real estate company. It’s pretty exciting, and it’s transferable. Here’s what it looks like from the street:

The New Downtown Campbell River Artist’s Studio and Gallery

Here’s how much it cost the artists: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the city: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the arts council: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the landlord: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the realtor: tax deductible light and heat.

Here’s the idea: underused space will remain unattractive to retail business and citizens until it can be given a bit of life. That’s where the artist’s come in. There’s going to be a big sign up top, and other signage on the door, people coming and going and buzz, and even here in opening week this in the window:

True Words

So are Enderby, Falkland, Armstrong, Spallumcheen, O’Keefe, Stepping Stones, Okanagan Landing, Coldstream, BX, Silver Star, Vernon, Lumby, Oyama, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Winfield, Rutland, Kelowna, the Mission, Westbank (really), Drought HIll, Peachland, Greata, Summerland, Naramata, Penticton, Kaleden, Hedley, Keremeos, Cawston, Similkameen Station, Chopaka, Olalla, White Lake, Yellow Lake, Okanagan Falls, Vaseaux, Gallagher Lake, Tuc El Nuit, Oliver, Osoyoos, Anarchist, Oroville, Ellisforde, Palmer Lake, Tonasket, Riverside, Omak, Okanagan, and Brewster, to name a few. Even their urban blight is beautiful.

Even this is beautiful:

Downtown Kelowna

A former human landscape, inviting a bit of renewal. The cars are a lovely addition, don’t you think? And that light pole, whoa.

So, the idea is: a landlord, seeing no profit from a seemingly unsaleable retail property, agrees to donate the use of the property (while it’s still for sale) to the arts, as studio space; the realtor, hoping for an improvement in the livability of the street, pays the light and heat, the arts council provides insurance, promotion and a bit of curation, and the artists? Well, they get to paint. Here we are:

A Proud Daddy and His New Baby

There’s an entire street here that could be renewed by this project, or by other projects that might follow.

 If the place sells, then the artists are given three months notice, and provided with new studio space elsewhere in the city, to repeat the performance. It’s Ken’s dream that small cities like Campbell River, in the first years of their awkward post-industrial identity, can partner with such places as the studio-space-starved Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, to provide studio space for artists in a vibrant and beautiful setting, at a cost that a big city like Vancouver can’t match. Here’s what Ken’s been up to personally:

Don’t Ask Why

Part of Ken Blackburn’s iPop series, “Don‘t Ask Why” is patterned after wallpaper and industrially-repeated designs, as a way to get back to landscape, now that it has been alienated from human sensibility.

Here’s another image from the iPop series:

 Yield Signs Run Amok

Note the wallpaper returning to the world in the lower right.

And here’s what’s been happening along similar lines in the Okanagan:

Vernon Public Art Gallery

Could it be the world’s only art gallery in the basement of a parking lot? What an opportunity! Note the cars. This appears to be a recurrent Okanagan theme.

It seems that renewal is in the air. I say we pick up Ken’s idea and run with it. Campbell River has an entire pulp mill that could be converted to an artist’s haven, world class. On that point, here’s a spot that might be perfect, too:

The Old Rendering Plant in Spallumcheen!

Now hardly meeting its potential as a reprocessing plant for used restaurant oils. What could the artists do with this, eh!

Here’s a closer look of a potential new Okanagan home for world art:

Spallumcheen Rendering Plant

An artist’s colony waiting to find itself? Certainly looks like it. Sure, art galleries can bring anything into their walls and thus frame it and turn it into art … but what if they were to put their frames out in the world? That would be inspiring, too, and hopefully in a way that provides new pathways.

What are we waiting for?

Tomorrow: A review of a wine book, The Heartbreak Grape, and its relevance to the Okanagan and the Okanogan.

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