Parking Enforcement & Other Absurdities Part IIWednesday, October 10, 2007
Few who ever visit the Vancouver Art Gallery look outside it. On the Howe side there is a flower bed of New Guinea Impatiens that is about as ugly as a flower bed can be. There are traffic circles with grasses, care of the Vancouver Parks Board, that are beautiful and in comparison even more so. On the Hornby side of the gallery, whatever grass used to grow there has been trampled to non existence by movie personnel and their heavy lights. On Georgia Street the gallery is defaced by a hideous Olympic clock. The clock and the nearby rock fountain, in combination would be enough to kill architect Arthur Erickson on the spot if you happen to mention them. He has long suffered because of that fountain. Don't even mention the seasonal coloured lights!
In the mid 90s, J. Brooks Joyner (left), the director of the Vancouver Art Gallery was my friend. We often had tea in my garden or at the Vancouver Hotel. I complained to him about the New Guinea Impatiens and he would laugh. He told me he was doing his best to try to install outdoor sculpture to dress up the exterior of the gallery. He told me that keeping the grass in good shape was difficult as the gallery received good annual revenue from movie and TV crews who liked to use the interior when they needed a realistic court room. Once over tea at the Vancouver Hotel he confirmed what my friend, art collector Samuel Frid had told me about a Frida Kahlo show that had flown to Japan, via Vancouver by Japan Airlines. It had been Willard Holmes, one of Joyner's predecessors who had nixed a kind offer from the Mexican government to stop the show in Vancouver on its way to Japan. It seems that there was no way to get the insurance money in time. In 1996 somehow Joyner (top left) was unable to fit into the city art establishment. There was a little palace coup and he was let go.
It is only recently that I lost another friend to intelligent head hunters. James Delgado, the former head of the Vancouver Maritime Museum was under appreciated here. This man had lots of energy, lots of ideas and connections and like Joyner he is an American. There is nothing like an American to know how to market and how to sell.
In the 90s Joyner and Delgado would meet for lunch or dinner and discuss ideas minus all the red tape that gallery and museum bureaucracies often have. The made plans and plotted joint shows. One of them would have been a show of maritime art that would have made the public want to go from the gallery to the museum, back and forth. There was a new director at the Museum of Anthropology so they were planning on inviting her to the meetings. With Joyner gone in 1996 Delgado was left alone and he almost languished while trying to coax us into looking out towards the sea.
Only once did I really see a concerted and extremely successful effort in combining the resources of more that one city cultural institution. Sometime in the 80s Presentation House in North Vancouver had a show of the Swiss photographer Robert Frank who forced Americans to look at themselves in his famous 1958 book The Americans. From photography Frank had switched to making avant garde films. These films were shown at the Pacific Cinematheque on Howe Street.
The icing to the cake was the showing of Frank's Cocksucker Blues on a video loop at Presentation House Gallery. This famous documentary that followed the traveling Rolling Stones influenced MTV and music videos.
A prime example of a total lack of interaction is to look at our municipal(you have to pay to get in) gardens. These are UBC Botanical Garden And Centre For Plant Research(top, middle), its associate garden the Japanese Nitobe Memorial Garden (below in colour), VanDusen Botanical Garden (top,left) and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (right).
Because you have to pay it means that they need the public's entry fees. Only one is really part of the city in the sense that the Vancouver Parks Board runs VanDusen. None of these gardens ever join forces and try to create a path of garden visitors that would want to make them visit all four gardens.
VanDusen and the Vancouver Art Gallery are a prime example of what happens during a city wide strike. The former has been closed for 82 days and it has lost all the summer tourist revenue plus the revenue of all those film companies that rent the gardens to shoot. Somehow the arrangement at the Vancouver Art Gallery makes it impervious to the current strike.
Perhaps now is when the city should consider getting these four gardens under one administrative roof and use them to attract more tourism. Joyner and Delgado would be figuring out how to bring in those gardens into their fold, too.
It is a scandal that a beautiful city like Vancouver cannot have a viable yearly plant and garden show to compete with Seattle and others around the world. Since the VanDusen version (successful on sunny years) is so dependant on public funding it is time the city step in so that this yearly show could make our city a botanical tourist Mecca.