25in25: A Public Art Retrospective – Community Walls/Community Voices

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In the spring of 2016, Braden Scheck joined the City of Vancouver’s Public Art team as an intern from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. The focus of his time was spent on creating video and text about key public art pieces as part of our retrospective series celebrating the Public Art Program’s 25th anniversary. Braden choose Community Walls/Community Voices as one of the pieces he was interested in finding out more about. Community Walls/Community Voices is a mosaic project organized by artists Richard Tetrault, Dan Bushnell and Jerry Whitehead. Below Braden shares an interview that he had with Richard Tetrault about the artwork

How did the proposal for Community Walls/Community Voices in this public space come about?

Colleague Dan Bushnell and I were intending to submit a proposal elsewhere on Commercial Drive for a community project, to the then-active Community Arts fund with the City. We had support from our sponsoring group the Native Education Centre, who had seen some of our projects and wanted to elevate, through a creative project, the longstanding presence of the urban Aboriginal community. In searching for a site, one option after another failed to manifest. The retaining wall bordering Clark Park provided a (then-desolate) stretch of urban landscape that was perfect for our vision.

Before shot of retaining wall. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Before shot of retaining wall. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What do you think the importance of this project is?

There was tremendous buy-in from the community, with over 300 participants involved over the year and a half of the project. Through outreach in the community that included workshops in the local public school, community centre and other venues, we engaged people of all ages. ‘Origins’, as an overall theme for Community Walls, opened up the conversation as to our origins, whether personally, culturally or historically. I witnessed a dramatic change in the years following the completion of the wall, with people walking adjacent to the work, interacting with it, leading school groups to discuss themes, etc.

Artwork in Progress: Jerry Whitehead working with community members on a mosaic. photo by E. Rausenberg

Artwork in Progress: Jerry Whitehead working with community members on a mosaic. Photo by E. Rausenberg

Were there any requirements or considerations you asked of participants in the project?

Participants varied in age and experiences, and as there were over 300 involved, the expectations varied as well. Essentially, they had to demonstrate commitment to the vision of the collective project, assisting as well with installation labour.

"Community Walls/Community Voices", 2003. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Community Walls/Community Voices”, 2003. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What does this particular area on Commercial Drive in Vancouver mean to you?

Bordering Clark Park on one side, and with Trout Lake Park and community centre nearby, this stretch of the Drive [had an] abandoned feeling when we launched the project. Part of the attraction of a large community project was to dramatically alter the tone of the streetscape, giving a face to the varied cultures intersecting there. Although it is a community, there was nothing visual that expressed that.

Can you explain some of the history of this area?

A primarily working class neighbourhood, Cedar Cottage/Trout Lake was linked in the early twentieth century, with a tramline that ran from Downtown, up the Drive and onto the adjunct Commercial Street district. This street is now home to light industry, smaller businesses mixed with a range of new and older housing and apartment complexes. It remains a strongly rooted community to the present time.

"Community Walls/Community Voices", 2003. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Community Walls/Community Voices”, 2003. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What would you say are some of the values of public artworks?

Public artworks operate in a range of ways. Pieces can be generated by an artist working independently, in conjunction with architects, or through community collaboration. I see these as quite diverse tangents within the public art realm, but in either respect, public art counters the prevailing commercialization of space in the urban landscape.

Works can also reflect the changing dynamics of our shared spaces. My projects are focused on the layered, multicultural city and its varied communities. In the Downtown Eastside, I have coordinated several large-scale projects that draw from and incorporate participation from Chinese, Japanese, Aboriginal and other communities and artists who have historically intersected here. Others have engaged people on a street-level manner. These projects include Walls of Change (1998), a large-scale project in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Walls of Change was initiated to bring a different perspective to an area of the city most commonly known for drug-abuse and despair. Thousands of square feet of murals were painted, with hundreds of community participants. More recently, Through the Eye of the Raven (2010) involved a team of urban Aboriginal artists expressing past/present visions of the urban experience in an 8000 square foot tableau.

Interview by Braden Scheck, Public Art Program Intern – Scheck is a Vancouver based multidisciplinary artist. He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, Video + Integrated Media at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 2016.

"Community Walls/Community Voices", 2003. Photo: E. Rausenberg

“Community Walls/Community Voices”, 2003. Photo: E. Rausenberg

ABOUT THE ARTWORK:

Located on Commercial Drive between 14th and 17th Avenues near Clark Park, the mosaic circles of Community Walls/Community Voices portray the origins of those within the area while highlighting the Aboriginal community of East Vancouver. By revitalizing a stretch along Commercial Drive that felt abandoned, the community project was a way to bring the community together and to alter the streetscape by giving a face to the diverse cultures that intersect there.

Community members were invited to reflect on the stories about their origins and histories of their lives as well as display their interests and ambitions. The three artists who organized the project also collaborated on one of the mosaics featuring tools that represent some of the work within the area. The work integrates many elements from photographs to fragments of ceramic china and Aboriginal imagery.

The collaborative work from 2002-2003 is recognized as a symbol of unity and commitment to the community. It is a permanent artwork in the City of Vancouver’s Public Art collection, and consists of twenty-eight mosaic medallions, ranging from 2’ to 10’ high. The concrete relief spans 170 metres along the wall.

ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Portrait of the artist Richard Tetrault. Photo by Esther Rausenberg.

Portrait of the artist Richard Tetrault. Photo by Esther Rausenberg.

Richard Tetrault is a Canadian-born artist based in Vancouver, Canada. His studio work includes painting, mixed media work and relief prints. Tetrault explores the shifting dynamics of the urban landscape. He has participated in more than fifty solo and group exhibitions, and is represented in both public and private collections worldwide. As a muralist and educator, Tetrault has directed projects with artists, community members and students in locations ranging from Cuba, Mexico and Argentina to other parts of Canada and the United States. Recent projects in Vancouver include the six-story mural Through the Eye of the Raven (2010)River of Crows (2011), and Russian Hall (2009). He is a recipient of the City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award in Community Engaged Arts in 2008. For more information about Richard and his art practice, please visit: www.richard-tetrault.ca

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The City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program celebrates 25 years of creating extraordinary artworks for public spaces. Every two weeks during 2016 we’ll share the story of a unique artwork created through the program. Over 260 pieces have been commissioned since 1991 through civic initiatives, community grants or private sector rezoning requirements. These are only a few of the key pieces that have helped to define Vancouver as a unique place and a world-class city for public art!

One thought on “25in25: A Public Art Retrospective – Community Walls/Community Voices

  1. I have driven by this wonderful mosaic wall many times and marvelled at it. Glad to know the story behind it. What an immense transformation for that cement wall – from drab to awesome.

    Like

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