Metro Vancouver has a plethora of permanent outdoor bike art scattered across our region. In City of Vancouver, there are over 40 different art works. For whole of Metro Vancouver, over 60 art works are spread across adjacent communities of Surrey, Burnaby, North Vancouver and others.
For some pieces, you simply have to stop cycling and hunt for a few minutes: it may be right near your foot –a bike art mosaic, a wall mural on the backside of an industrial building or school building. There is even bike art as structural steel art work on top of a street pole or shaped into public seating.
Why do images of cycling or the bike, crop up in our public art? I’d like to think that artistic vision in good public art, often expresses creatively, hopes and dreams of what the city can become: the possibilities for people by thinking and envisioning out of the box.
Each art work was conceived and installed independent of one another at different times. Some artworks were funded by the City of Vancouver’s public art program whereas others were supported by the local Business Improvement Association where volunteer community groups have been led by an artist. The lead
artists designed the work and then it was installed and finished collectively, with each paint stroke or with each mosaic tile, by community volunteers of all ages. These artworks are a wonderful testament to a shared desire to beautify collectively for creating a permanent image within their neighbourhood.
Public art work as one artist friend said, is a sign of making a community more liveable. And what could be more apt, than outdoor bike art.
John Steil, a community planner, artist and book author for Public Art in Vancouver, is outdoor bike art detective –par excellence in Metro Vancouver. For the past few years, while cycling (and occasionally driving) around to track down 500 different outdoor public art for his book, he also included bike art in his photographic discoveries. He notes:
“I have put in a lot of kilometres on my bike, researching Public Art in Vancouver. I thought I’d seen all the public art that included cycling, but I’m always delightfully surprised when I come across new pieces in Vancouver or in the surrounding municipalities as I expand my search for public art in general. Public art is a dynamic field.”
He reflects on his most recent discovery a few months ago, guerilla bike art:
“I was particularly intrigued by the ‘guerilla art signs’ along the 10th Ave East that I saw recently. Not only do they fill a need for warning signs, they do so in an artistic way.”
Just a handful of guerilla bike art signs are installed within the popular traffic calming circles on certain streets in Vancouver. Vancouver uses traffic calming circles far more frequently to control car speed compared to many other Canadian cities. In some neighbourhoods, these concrete circles are enlivened with budding community garden plots. While cycling at various times of the year, one can see some local volunteers tending their flowers and bushes.
You would need several hours to cycle in Vancouver and view at least 10 different outdoor bike art installations, with a hill or two along the way. Some bike route planning is advised, but all possible. You may even be able to check out enroute, a few traffic circle community garden plots, large botanical gardens (Queen Elizabeth Park and Van Dusen Gardens) and some mosaic outdoor public art. (More about the this in another blog post.)
In the cycling intensive cities of Freiburg (Germany), Strasbourg (France) or even Copenhagen, we did not see nor were aware of much outdoor bike art. We look to local cyclists there, to tell us of bike art that we may have missed . Perhaps cycling is deeply embedded into the culture for some European cities, or maybe such art is not highlighted.
Some of Metro Vancouver’s outdoor bike art has been around for us to enjoy since the early 1990’s. We are reminded and inspired by this artistic wish, a harbinger of Vancouver’s hope and realization for a city that is fun, cycleable and people-scaled.
For photos of 50 more different outdoor bike art works:
Chong, Jean. More Outdoor Bike Art in Metro Vancouver. Feb. 2,
2011. Article lists more links to more bike art photos in articles for our region.