A view of the bay between Queens’ Park and Haynes Park, looking towards Willows Beach, Jan. 22. (Jesse Laufer/News Staff).

Resident explores heritage designation to halt art placement in Oak Bay

Arts committee seeks provincial permission to environmentally install shoreline sculpture

A local resident hopes to have part of Oak Bay’s shoreline designated as a natural heritage site.

After reading about concerns over Oak Bay’s Sea Lore project – a statue proposed to built in the bay or along the seawall – in the Oak Bay News, resident Pamela Woodland took to Facebook. After a post she made garnered over 200 interactions.

READ MORE: Potential statue slated for Oak Bay beach draws early criticism

“There are many things I find objectionable about this proposition, but for me it is not a debate about public art in general, or about the aesthetics of this particular piece – it is a question of site. Is it appropriate? What criteria is used to determine that?” Woodland wrote online. “This is the tidal zone of a migratory bird sanctuary. All the rocks are already occupied by various shore birds and water fowl.”

The location of the statue is not set in stone, says Barbara Adams, Oak Bay Arts Laureate.

“It is still just a proposal,” Adams said. “We are doing a licence to occupy for a rock in the bay from the provincial government. In order to do that, we had to have a proposed piece of art. We had to have some way that the province would know that we were going to install it in a environmentally secure way – which we are.”

Adams went on to note that the statue is not built yet, but rather just a maquette markup. The maquette is small clay rendering of the proposed piece, which Adams said would probably make its way to municipal hall for public viewing. She said that the donor, who remains anonymous, was pleased with it.

“His comment is that the sculpture exceeded his expectations for the project. I would really like for the public to see the maquette,” Adams said. “This is a big deal for Oak Bay to get $50,000 for a piece of art. It could never come from the municipality, it’s not in the budget. This is a great gift for the community.”

Adams also said that she has heard positive feedback from members of the public she’s spoken to.

Woodland is concerned that the piece will distract from nature.

“It would provide a visual gravitational pull away from the rich world it occupies, and hold attention on a myth that has no meaning in this culture and an visual form that dispossess the creatures who live there,” wrote Woodland. “I urge council to consult with the public about this before proceeding further. That a wealthy donor can have the right to impose what for him is likely a legacy piece onto this natural environment without proper public consultation is an insult to all of us who recognize and appreciate the bay on its own terms.”

LETTER: Nature needs no embellishment

Adams couldn’t say whether the project would require a final approval from council.

“As far as I see it the Public Art Advisory Committee is charged with choosing of the art, and the province is in charge of that rock,” Adams said. “Where the municipality is in this decision – because they usually confirm the location when it’s under municipal jurisdiction – but this is a new type of project, so i’m not sure where council is on this. The rock is not under municipal jurisdiction.”

In a follow up letter from Woodland she says that she was told the issue would be discussed at the municipal level later in February. Mayor Kevin said he expects that to be during the Feb. 19 Special Committee of the Whole meeting. That meeting will be open to the public, and Murdoch says he expects more details on the process so far and what the next steps are. He also said that Council will have final say on the project.

In the meantime, Woodland is examining what she can do.

“I am exploring the prospect of proposing that this micro-bay in Oak Bay be designated a Natural Heritage site and protected and preserved as a rare example of a small bit of urban wild coast. I believe it fits the criteria.”



jesse.laufer@oakbaynews.com

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