Exploring public art is an activity with (at least) three awesome things going for it: it’s interesting, it’s free and it’s outdoors.
You may already be familiar with some of the more iconic public artworks in your city. For example, the laughing people at English Bay in Vancouver (official name: A-maze-ing Laughter), the Beast Horse Clock in Maple Ridge (my hometown!) or the Giant Raspberries of Abbotsford (the raspberry capital of Canada).
But there is likely more for you to discover. And why not make an adventure of it? Exploring public art can make a great outing with family or friends. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Here’s a rundown of some of the best places and ways to explore public art. While Vancouver does have a lot to offer, don’t think there’s only cool public art in the big city. Many cities across Metro Vancouver as well as Victoria have growing public art collections (more info below).
One of our biggest celebrations of public art is the Vancouver Mural Festival, an annual event that takes place for a week in August in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.
The marquee event is the massive Mount Pleasant Street Party, happening on Saturday, August 10, 2019, which features live music, family-friendly beer gardens, food trucks, market, family art zone, community painting and public disco dance party.
If the street party isn’t your style, you can also explore the murals on your own – check out this interactive map to see all the mural locations.
Vancity has been supporting the Vancouver Mural Festival for the past three years with a focus on supporting Indigenous artists to reclaim public space to tell their truths and stories through their art. Learn more about the Highlighting Indigenous Artists program and explore a listing and map of these Indigenous murals.
Self-guided walking tours
Several cities offer self-guided walking tours for specific neighbourhoods, usually outlined in a brochure format. Here are a few that are available:
- New Westminster: Riverfront
- North Vancouver: Deep Cove, Seymour, Maplewood Village, Lynn Creek Town Centre, Upper Lonsdale, Edgemont, Marine Drive, Mahon, Central Lonsdale, Lower Lonsdale, Spirit Trail
- Richmond: Brighouse Village, Lansdowne Village, Oval Village, Steveston Village, Alexandra Neighbourhood
- Surrey: Surrey Central (the Surrey Arts & Culture Map outlines an art walk from King George Station to Gateway Station) or you can search the map by neighbourhood
- Vancouver: Burrard Corridor, Downtown Waterfront, Yaletown False Creek
- White Rock: Uptown, Waterfront
After commuting on the SkyTrain for years, one day I noticed some artworks at my home station (in my defense, they were above eye level!). There’s actually a lot of art in and around our SkyTrain stations – and with built-in transportation, it’s easy to do an art tour.
Here’s information about some of the existing art:
Many of Vancity’s 59 branches feature artworks by local artists. Art is part of a vibrant, healthy community, so when branches are remodeled the credit union does a call to local artists to create an artwork that reflects the local community and Vancity’s vision and values. Check out the listing of artworks and artists.
Public art resources
Here’s an overview of public art information available for different cities in Metro Vancouver and Victoria:
- Abbotsford – Public art can found around the city, including at some of the main interchanges and recreation centres (the giant raspberries are at the intersection of Marshall Road and Clearbrook Road).
- Burnaby – Burnaby’s art collection includes 20 public artworks that can be found in different areas, including Deer Lake Park and Burnaby Mountain Park.
- Chilliwack – The city’s website lists about 10 public art projects, including the ‘Giant Flowers’ in the Evans Road roundabout.
- Coquitlam – Coquitlam’s public art includes The Centennial Totem Pole at Poirier Community Centre, which dates back to 1967, as well as newer pieces like the 12 salmon sculptures decorated by different artists for the city’s 125th anniversary.
- Maple Ridge – The city has 15 public art installations, including sidewalk poetry about what makes the city special to its residents.
- New Westminster – The city’s public art registry lists almost 30 artworks, including the iconic Wow Westminster “W” made of four forty-foot shipping containers and some very bold and colourful murals (including one by Sandeep Johal).
- North Vancouver – The North Shore features public art in town centres, parks, along trails and pathways, and outside civic and commercial buildings. The Lower Lonsdale neighbourhood is a good place to start, as you can also enjoy the Lonsdale Quay Market and seawall.
- Pitt Meadows – The city has a handful of public artworks and has recently undertaken a BC Hydro box beautification project.
- Port Coquitlam – The city has a few public art programs, including pianos in the street, a street banner project and a public art installation celebrating Pride.
- Port Moody – The city features colourful painted and printed banners on its streets from April to November each year.
- Richmond – Richmond has 200+ artworks in its public art registry, plus has several projects like the No. 3 Road Art Columns.
- Squamish – Squamish has a number of murals and street artworks – several are highlighted in this story about the Squamish arts scene.
- Surrey – The city has 100+ artworks listed on its arts and culture map, including 22 pieces of Inidigenous artworks. The online searchable map can be filtered by neighbourhood.
- Tsawwassen Mills – Although not technically public art, Tsawwassen Mills has 22 artworks in and around the mall that can be easily accessed by the public. In 2008, the Tsawwassen First Nation reached an agreement on Canada’s first modern-day urban treaty, following which it developed a land use plan aimed at creating new economic opportunities and self-reliance for its members – including Tsawwassen Mills.
- Vancouver – Vancouver has a pretty large public art collection, all of which is documented in its public art registry, which you can search by name and filter by neighbourhood. The city usually has several new public art projects on the go. There’s also a new app called Muse Public Art App, which is a beautiful guide featuring over 500 free, publicly accessible artworks in the city of Vancouver and can be downloaded from your app store.
- Victoria – Victoria has searchable public art inventory with 155+ artworks, plus several projects like a bus shelter art exhibit and lamppost banners.
- West Vancouver – West Vancouver has 100+ pieces in its public art inventory, including the award-winning installation of moveable sunshades at the Aquatic Centre (Aquascapes) and signature sculpture at the entrance of Ambleside Park (Spirit of the Mountain).
- White Rock – White Rock has a growing collection of public art, mostly clustered in the uptown and waterfront areas. For the its 60th anniversary, the city installed a collection of art on its sidewalks that only appeared when it rained.