Vancouver’s Public Art: Some weird and some fanciful

Elizabeth R. Rose
For ClarkCountyToday.com

VANCOUVER — As you wander around Vancouver you will encounter public art — sculptures, murals and fountains. Most people will recall seeing the colorful stacked umbrellas on Evergreen and Main but there are a few newer pieces you may have missed.

The Downtown Arts District

More public art is being added each year, especially in downtown. In 2014, the city of Vancouver designated the Vancouver Arts District to give a boost to the visual, performing and public arts. You will see signs signifying the Arts District area. The collaboration between the city and arts organizations and businesses is designed to support the growing arts community and attract more arts organizations to locate in Downtown Vancouver.

On First Fridays, there are gallery openings, special events at local wineries and music.

Matthew Dockrey's "The Visitor" entrances Marley Cowen. She and her family live in central Vancouver and value the vibrant lifestyle and the art. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose
Matthew Dockrey’s “The Visitor” entrances Marley Cowen. She and her family live in central Vancouver and value the vibrant lifestyle and the art. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose

Vancouver’s arts include poetry readings, theater and special events but some more permanent evidence of artistic expression are the public art sculptures.

Four projects “Flying Umbrellas” at Evergreen and Main, “The Phoenix” at 8th and Main, “Movie Madness” at 11th and Main and “Heart and Stone” at 6th and Columbia were commissioned by Vancouver’s Downtown Association. Downtown property owner, Menashe Commerical Properties, has added another piece recently at 11th and Main. It is titled “Uskudar” and is by local artist Lee Kelly.

Karen Madsen, Chair of Arts of Clark County, is an artist and a fan of "The Visitor," enjoying the humor and surprise of the piece. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose
Karen Madsen, Chair of Arts of Clark County, is an artist and a fan of “The Visitor,” enjoying the humor and surprise of the piece. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose

Art and Curiosities

"Flying Umbrellas" has become part of the fabric of downtown Vancouver. It was created by Cobalt Designworks, a partnership between designer Jennifer Corio and metalworker Dave Frei. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose
“Flying Umbrellas” has become part of the fabric of downtown Vancouver. It was created by Cobalt Designworks, a partnership between designer Jennifer Corio and metalworker Dave Frei. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose

We can all agree that the “Flying Umbrellas” sculpture is definitely art. It’s colorful and creative. But did you know there is more to it? The city’s public arts website explains, “It is also sustainable: when it rains, the top umbrella drains into the shaft of the next two umbrellas, then down into the stand and the concrete base, where it is dispersed into the plants below.”

One of the most surprising pieces installed in central Vancouver is titled, “The Visitor.”  While Vancouver is not usually known as being “weird” like our neighbor to the south, Vancouver is competing with Portland when it comes to quirky art.

Picture this for a public art project — a giant steel tentacle with menacing suckers rising from an Uptown sewer. Seattle artist Matthew Dockrey created the piece, which causes people strolling along Main Street to do a double-take. In fact, it evokes creativity from local children to climb on it and re-create scary movie scenes.

Some consider it a bit frightening and others see it as whimsical steam punk art.  The tentacle, holding an authentic Vancouver manhole cover, is controversial but not surprising. This piece of art is added to Vancouver’s collection of intriguing public art including a talking Salmon Clock, and a Rosie the Riveter sculpture with a stained glass head.

But why the tentacle? The sculpture is located in front of the old Mission Theater, which showed movies in from the 1930s to the 1950s. Wouldn’t a scary tentacle be reminiscent of some great horror movies that may have shown at the theater? The sculpture has certainly elicited a range of reactions but that’s what art should be all about, stimulating discussion and adding to our sense of community.

You’ll find “The Visitor” at the corner of Main Street and West 23rd in Vancouver’s Uptown Village.

How Was The Visitor Chosen?

Matthew Dockrey's "The Visitor" surprises people walking along Main Street in Uptown Village. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose
Matthew Dockrey’s “The Visitor” surprises people walking along Main Street in Uptown Village. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth R. Rose

Matthew Dockrey’s “The Visitor” itself cost $9,500. The city of Vancouver issued a $12,000 grant to the Uptown Business District to cover the project’s total cost. But the story lies in how the piece was selected.

The Uptown business district asked the nonprofit organization, Arts of Clark County, to assist them in the selection of a piece. Arts of Clark County then enlisted the involvement of the local neighborhood associations and a selection committee was formed. They wrote a request for proposals and from the submissions chose Matthew Dockrey’s piece.

Karen Madsen, chair of Arts of Clark County, said of the piece, “It’s humorous and elicits excitement in the public.” The process, she says, “is a good example of people coming together to choose public art that represents the community.”

“Public art is more than a statue in a park,” Madsen added. “The best public art challenges and excites the audience in new and unexpected ways.”

Arts of Clark County supports art and artists in many different ways and is currently preparing for the successful annual Open Studios Tour.

More Information on Arts and Artists in Clark County

Map of Public Art
Clark County Arts Commission
Native Arts and Cultures Foundation
Vancouver Organization for Contemporary Art (VOCA)

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