Artist Brandon Gabriel’s “Raven and the First Sunrise” is showcased at Guildford Library. (Photo: surrey.ca)

MINTY: This summer, discover the new public art in Surrey

In Guildford, Brandon Gabriel’s work tells First Nations story of Raven bringing sunlight to earth

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

The City of Surrey has a public art program, established in 1998. There are now more than 80 public artworks gracing Surrey’s landscape and public buildings. There are mosaics, paintings and interactive sculptures that recall Surrey’s history, celebrate life, movement and cultural diversity. Some of it may be so subtle that we don’t even notice the artworks that enhance parks, pathways, streets, SkyTrain pillars and civic buildings throughout the city.

At Guildford Library, “Raven and the First Sunrise,” by Brandon Gabriel, is the most recently completed public art project. This design on the library windows depicts the First Nations story in which the raven brings sunlight to the earth. “Raven and the First Sunrise” is the fifth of eight Indigenous artworks completed to creatively enhance civic facilities and infrastructure across Surrey. Telling a story in pictures bridges cultural and language barriers. I mean, did you know that there are 37 distinct and diverse Indigenous languages in present-day British Columbia? Thank you for the paintings, and thank you, Raven, for bringing sunrise. The story also tells us the raven (a shapeshifter) gave humans what they needed to look after the planet: health, happiness, humbleness, forgiveness, family, generosity and generations. How are we doing, Raven?

I suppose that most of us only register public art as “decoration.” Well, rise to the challenge and discover the story and heritage behind these public art installations. Next time you stop at Surrey Arts Centre, take time to appreciate “Retro-Perspective” by Drew Atkins. This colourful artwork on the courtyard windows combines Coast Salish design elements with a retro look reminiscent of 1950s wallpaper and modernist sculptures, inviting the viewer to recognize that there are many perspectives of time and history. Also there is “Eight Salmon Heads,” by Leslie Wells. This design on the program room windows honours the salmon valued by the coast-dwelling Semiahmoo First Nation, and the salmon that continue to spawn in Bear Creek, which runs behind the arts centre.

So, there is a start for your summer adventure – discovering public art. When Surrey’s public art program was first introduced 20 years ago, there were walks and tours of introduction. Now, it is just part of our everyday life. Just let me give a shout-out to the Newton Business Improvement Association (BIA) as well. They have commissioned several murals on buildings in Newton Town Centre. The hope is to reduce graffiti and enhance the area. It’s working! Every positive, colorful, story-telling and culture-enhancing effort is surely a step in the gifts that Raven brought to humans.

Of course, visual artwork is only one way to tell a story. Vagabond Players are presenting “An Evening of One Acts” from July 26 to Aug. 12. Sure, I understand that Vagabond Players are located at the Bernie Legge Theatre in Queen’s Park, New Westminster. Sooooo – field trip. The plays are Hidden In This Picture by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Colleen Byberg, and Possible Worlds by John Mighton, directed by Alex Ross. The Vagabond company had some truly excellent productions last season, so check them out at vagabondplayers.ca.

Art is part of any theatre production. Painting sets and set design. So, Raven wanted us humans to look after the planet, and although Raven did not say recycle and reuse, it is something that we need to do now after being gifted by Raven with many generations and families. So, I ask, what happens to all the leftover paint from building sets for plays?

Vancouver’s Metro Theatre has announced a project called Artful Theatre. Working with artist Tracy-Lynn Chernaske, participants will be challenged to use up the leftover paint from the company’s season to create and find the beauty in recycling through abstract artwork. What a concept. There isn’t a whole lot of information about this project yet, but just tossing it out there for consideration. Maybe some of our local theatre groups are ready to run with this idea. I absolutely love this concept. Make like Jackson Pollock and splash some paint (from the theatre season) on a flat surface. Tell a story of your own.

One of the gifts from Raven was happiness. Laughter is a proven happiness factor. So, just thought you would like to know that White Rock Players are designing their entire next season on laughter. The first two productions are Harvey by Mary Chase (opening Oct. 10), followed by Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom by Dann Wilhelm (a panto, opening Dec. 5). Wilhelm will also direct.

The story line of the pantomime is both topical and traditional, and should be full of laughs. The day before Robin Hood is to marry Maid Marion, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham hatches a scheme that would level Sherwood Forest to make way for a new Skytrain expansion. Robin and his Merry Men, along with the minstrel-fairy Alana Dale, must stop the sheriff’s plan. Will good triumph over evil? And how do The Beatles fit into all of this? Beatles? I thought we were talking about Ravens. Ah well.

Auditions for Metro, White Rock Players and FVGSS, A Musical Theatre Company productions are happening this summer. So while you travel to the websites, take time to note audition dates. We can all be part of artful theatre, and make our contribution to public art. Right, Raven? It is our responsibility.

melminty@telus.net

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