A longtime Oak Bay resident in his mid-90s reflected on a lifetime of travel as he walked along the waterfront at. He thought of times he had been delighted by a thoughtful sculpture in a public place – nothing grand or political, just something whimsical to bring a smile to the face of a passerby. As he walked, he noticed a small rock a few metres from the shore – a perfect site for a bit of art. He imagined making a gift to the community for this public space, entirely paid for by him.
Of course, a public gift requires a public process. Fortunately Oak Bay has a robust Public Art Advisory Committee. You may have noticed other public art installations appearing in Oak Bay in the last few years. The PAAC was asked by the prospective donor to help choose the work of art, and to seek approvals, under the guidelines of Oak Bay’s Public Art Policy.
The donor’s plan is for a small bronze sculpture sitting on one end of the rock, a rock which is almost submerged at high tide. The rock is under provincial jurisdiction and so a licence to occupy is being sought from the provincial government.
The Oak Bay Council endorsed the location for the sculpture on the rock at a meeting last June, and both our MP Murray Rankin and MLA Andrew Weaver are supportive of the project. Subsequent to the first public meeting on the subject, letters to the editor and discussions in social media appeared.
When the results are in, it is then up to Oak Bay Council to decide what to do with this proposed gift.
Submissions from 32 sculptors were received and, after a rigorous selection process, the donor chose a design by Fred Dobbs, a well-known local artist. In 2017 Dobbs won the People’s Choice Award in the municipality’s Arts Alive sculpture competition for his bronze, Lunar Transitions, which is now on permanent display in front of the Oak Bay Public Library. The maquette for his new sculpture, proposed for this foreshore site, is on view at the municipal hall.
It’s easy to get distracted by the specifics of the art, or to imagine that our precious natural environment is going to be despoiled. Without a clear understanding of what is going on, some people react as if this gift is being forced upon them. Let’s not forget what’s behind the proposal now being considered: one of our citizens wants to commission and contribute a sculpture – “to bring a smile to the face of a passersby.”
As a community, we’re going through the process, to decide whether we will accept this gift. Let’s give the donor and his donation the respect they deserve. Your informed opinion is encouraged.