Skip to content

FOCUS: Surrey gets serious about public art (photos)

A traffic circle in Fraser Heights is just one example of the city’s ambitious plan to give residents ‘pride in where they live.'
Protecting the Future
A backside view of Artform Sculpture Studio’s “Protecting the Future

SURREY — When delegates from across the country come to Surrey for this month’s 2016 Creative City Summit, some will tour Surrey City Hall and Holland Park to have a look at the many examples of public art in those places.

Surrey’s public art collection now totals more than 60 pieces, and the summit’s host city is keen to show them off to members of the Creative City Network of Canada who’ll gather at the Sheraton hotel in Guildford from Oct. 17 to 19.

The City Centre area of Surrey alone boasts 19 examples of public art, according to a list of the collection on the city’s website ( Detailed are works such as Glen Andersen’s “Were It Not for You” (a “bas-relief” sculpture that decorates the central fountain wall in Holland Park), Studio Roso’s “Together” (hundreds of aluminum birds suspended from city hall’s atrium ceiling) and Artform Sculpture Studio’s “Protecting the Future, Serving the Present” (a statue of a firefighter and two kids, also at Holland Park).

CLICK HERE to see a list of Surrey's public art collection.

Such examples of public art in Surrey excite Councillor Judy Villeneuve, who has been working for years to expand and improve the city’s collection.

“We have a really wide array of examples of public art in Surrey now – at our civic centres, our greenways, our parks, our streets, and in private developments, too,” she said.

PICTURED: "Circulation" at Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre in South Surrey. Photo: Rick Chapman/City of Surrey

Villeneuve is the council representative on the city’s Public Art Advisory Committee, a nine-person group tasked with advising the council on Surrey’s Public Art Policy.

Last month, the committee put out a call to artists for the installation of a public artwork in the middle of a traffic circle in the Fraser Heights area, at the intersection of 156th Street and 108th Avenue. Some observers weren’t impressed with the project’s $90,000 budget, to be funded by private development contributions and matched by the city’s Public Art Program.

“No money for education, yet money for useless public art? How does that benefit anyone? Unbelievable,” Jennifer Bergen posted on the Now’s Facebook page.

“How can anyone think spending this much money on art for a roundabout is a good idea?” Murray Fane wrote. “We live here and we DO NOT want our tax dollars, 90,000 of them, spent on ‘art’.”

Villeneuve said the Public Art Advisory Committee identified the traffic circle as a site for public art “close to eight years ago,” and defends the amount of money to be spent on the work.

An artist for the project will be chosen after the Nov. 1 submission deadline.

“In the long run, people will cherish such examples of public art in this city,” she told the Now. “It’s all part of building a complete city, and studies show that. Public art gives people pride – pride in where they live. I hardly ever hear a negative comment about the public art in the city, and the cost is never put in context. Developers contribute to it, and they also pay for road improvements, sewers, infrastructure. It’s all part of making a city better.”

PICTURED: A detail of Bruce Voyce's "Spring Floraform, Summer Floraform and Seeds of Change," at Holland Park. File photo by Gord Goble


Funding for Surrey’s Public Art Policy is based on 1.25 per cent of construction costs of city-funded capital projects, such as new building construction, park development projects and major additions to existing buildings.

Since 2011, the city has seen an increase in public art works, thanks to a program that sees developers contribute a half of one per cent (0.5%) of construction budgets to such installations. For large-budget projects, a developer has the choice of making a contribution to Surrey’s Public Art Reserve, or installing public art of a certain value on, or near, their development site.

“For the City Centre area, the developers are contributing, and the fund is at around half a million dollars,” Villeneuve reported. “We’re hoping to grow it to about a million (dollars) so we can do a significant piece for the plaza area.

“Once the arena there is replaced the bus loop is moved,” she continued, “the plaza is going to extend all the way to SFU. I’m sure you’ve travelled to cities where there have been substantial art pieces, so it draws people to a plaza – something people can talk about, be proud of. We’re hoping for that signature piece in the City Centre area, so we’re saving for that one. It’s a savings plan, to attract a really good artist to design something there.”

Nearby, work to renovate Surrey Central SkyTrain station will begin this fall, and  Newton-based artist Thomas Nelles has won a competition to design art for a temporary vinyl wrap for the construction hoarding there. He’ll earn $5,000 for the design of his colourful “Chrysalis” mural, to remain in place for 18 months.

“It’s a high-traffic area, so it’s exciting to have so many people see my work,” said Nelles, 21.

“It went through a number of steps for approval,” he added. “There were 29 artists who submitted, including a design firm from the States, and I was up against artists who have been working for 20 years. Then there’s me, fresh out of art university.”

Nelles’ work at the station, however temporary, will add to the several examples of public art unveiled in Surrey this year.

In the Clayton area, Hazelgrove park is home to “Water Guardians,” created by artist Susan Point to resemble a large red umbrella with a hooked handle.

New to the lobby at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, as of June, is “Four Seasons,” featuring four 30-inch buffalo-hide drums made by Brandon Gabriel and Melinda Bige.

At the new Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre, “Circulation,” a two-part sculpture featuring deer, was created by artists Pierre Sasseville and Jean-François Cooke.

Also standing in South Surrey, since 2009, is “Under the Double Eagle and Elder Moon,” which features a pair of large, upright cedar disks mounted by artists Leonard Wells and Leslie Wells. The work is placed near South Surrey Recreation & Arts Centre, at 20th Avenue and 144th Street – in a traffic roundabout not unlike the one in Fraser Heights.

“That was one of our first prominent pieces in Surrey. It’s beautiful and people still talk about it,” Villeneuve said about the “Elder Moon” piece. “I think that was around $110,000 to do, and the reality is you cannot do a substantial piece of artwork for much less than $100,000. Anything less, you just cannot attract artists of the calibre you need. And half of the costs are just getting the piece into the ground, securing it and connecting it, everything, and landscaping and maintenance, too.”

PICTURED: Civic officials and artist Robert Davidson with his "Eagle Calling," at Frank Hurt Park. Photo: Rick Chapman/City of Surrey


Over the summer, the Public Art Advisory Committee went on two tours of the city to identify sites for the future installation of public art. With this information in mind, they’ll work to create the next-generation Surrey Public Art Plan, to build on the first one, created for the years 2012 to 2016.

Along with Villeneuve, current members of the committee, on three-year terms, are Jim Adams, Virginia Gillespie, Jude Hannah, Deborah Langtry, Robert McMurray, Diane Purvey, Celeste Snowber and Gerhard Vandenbosch. They are typically assisted by city staff members Anita Green (community arts co-ordinator), Liane Davison (visual and community art manager) and Sheila McKinnon (manager of arts services). Their next meeting is on Thursday, Oct. 6, and minutes are posted on the city’s website.

“We’re just finishing up the identification of sites for the next five years, to benchmark what’s been completed and what we’re looking ahead to,” Villeneuve explained. “We’re proud to say that most of our public art pieces, at sites around Surrey, have been completed from the last plan we presented, the original one.”

For each potential piece of public art in Surrey, residents can have their say at meetings along the way, through the entire, sometimes lengthy, process.

As for the selection of artists and works, the public calls are posted on the city’s website.

“We do a call, an international one, for pieces that are substantial,” Villeneuve said. “We want to have the best of the best in this city because we feel it’s going to be one of the important, beautiful cities in Canada down the road. Local artists do complete with international artists, and that’s nothing new in the world of art, it’s all a fair playing field.”


Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
Read more