Surrey man says $110K for public art is ‘bad way to spend money’

The City of Surrey has put out a call for artists to create artwork in Fraser Heights and Port Kells

SURREY — A Surrey man said “it’s gross” the City of Surrey is spending $110,000 on public art projects.

Bryson Sask said he was shocked by the amount when he stumbled across the call for artists on the BC Bid website, bcbid.gov.bc.ca.

“That’s pretty big,” he told the Now-Leader. “I don’t think we need something like that. Beautify the parks, put money into policing or the drug problem, there’s a way better way to use that money.”

He called it a “gross misuse” of taxpayer money.

On May 15, the City of Surrey posted an Artist Call for Expressions of Interest for a public art project with a budget of $20,000 for a mosaic project at the Port Kells Hall, at Harvie Road and 88th Avenue.

“For the $20,000, why not run a contest with school children?” wondered Sask. “To me that’s a way to involve the community and you still get the same end result.”

Then, the city posted another call on May 31 for a public art project outside the Fraser Heights rec centre, at 160th Street and 105th Avenue, with a budget of $90,000 that would pay for artist fees, design, materials, insurance and all engineering expenses including fabrication, delivery, installation, travel and taxes.

In its call for artists for the rec centre piece, the City of Surrey states it “will serve as an iconic landmark and a gateway feature into the Fraser Heights neighbourhood.”

In consultation, residents of Fraser Heights recommended values of “community, diversity and nature” to inspire artists.

Click here to see the full Artist Call for Expressions of Interest.

The funds allocated to this piece were originally for artwork in the middle of a traffic circle, but the city “moved on from that one,” Surrey’s art services manager Sheila McKinnon said in January. This, after the proposal proved controversial when some residents questioned why that amount would be spent on traffic circle art.

But the project wasn’t cancelled. The city instead changed gears after meeting with area residents, who expressed a desire for public art at the local rec centre.

Councillor Judy Villeneuve defended the amount of money to be spent on the artwork at the time.

“In the long run, people will cherish such examples of public art in this city,” she told the Now-Leader last October. “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.”

But Sask is not impressed.

“Just as a taxpayer, I know there’s a place for art,” he said. “But this is a bad way to spend money.”

Sask said he has emailed the purchaser listed on the bid, and has launched a complaint on the city’s website.

Expressions of Interest for the Fraser Heights project are due on July 16 and are due June 5 for the Port Kells artwork.

amy.reid@surreynowleader.com