Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood rallied around a statue that’s inspired celebrity shout-outs and an unofficial name that’s stuck around in a testament to the power of public art.
The cedar sculpture, titled “Reclining Figure” and created by artist Michael Dennis, has been a fixture in Guelph Park since it was installed in the early 1990s, quickly earning the nickname “The Dude.”
The park, then, became known as “Dude Chilling Park.”
The Dude has developed a persona for members of the Mount Pleasant community, who raised thousands of dollars to ensure the figure remains a permanent fixture in neighbourhood.
“The sculpture became such an iconic addition to the park that when it was taken away a couple of years ago, people really missed it, and some people thought it was gone forever,” said Anita Romaniuk, president of the Mount Pleasant Community Centre Association.
The Dude was not, in fact, gone forever. By 2017, the beloved wooden form was decaying and in need of restoration.
The artist brought the figure back to his studio on Denman Island, where Dennis said he took extra care to accentuate the surface features of the wood so they would be preserved when the statue was cast in bronze.
On Saturday, the figure of The Dude, now a sturdy bronze statue, returned to the Mount Pleasant park that unofficially bears its name.
“He kind of captures the atmosphere of the park. It’s a very casual place to be,” Romaniuk said.
The restoration, casting and transportation of the statue has been pricey, and Dennis has covered some restoration costs himself. The foundry’s casting of the sculpture in bronze alone cost around $50,000, he said.
Romaniuk estimated the total cost will be around $70,000 and the community association is still trying to return some funds to Dennis.
For Dennis, The Dude is special because the figure is accessible for all kinds of different people who visit the park.
“They don’t have to have any notions about art (like) is it good art or is it bad art,” Dennis said at Saturday’s unveiling.
“For me to have my work be in this kind of a venue is much more appealing than some rich man’s backyard that only his few friends see.”
Dennis described The Dude’s persona as cool and content, looking out over the people enjoying the park in the sun, and added that he too could take a leaf out of The Dude’s book and relax more.
“Often I find in my work expressions that I seldom let out in my own person,” he said. “We have a lot of emotions inside us that we don’t always show and just chilling out — that’s a good one.”
The Dude has even inspired another work of public art that’s now a permanent fixture in the same park.
In 2012, artist Viktor Briestensky installed a parody “Dude Chilling Park” sign that mimicked the park board’s own recognizable green and white park signs.
The park board initially removed it, but reconsidered after 1,500 people signed a petition favouring the nickname.
A permanent “Dude Chilling Park” sign was installed in 2014 as a piece of public art, which coexists alongside the official Guelph Park sign.
The parody sign caught the eye of late-night television host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who joked that he might have to move to Canada, while Vancouverite Seth Rogan has also sent The Dude a shout-out on Twitter.
Trude Huebner lives across the street from the park and said she’s happy to have The Dude back as a focal point of the neighbourhood.
“If you have someone new to the area and they come by, you can say, ‘So what do you think of The Dude?'” said Huebner, who added she believes Vancouver needs more art in public spaces.
“To see residents so attached to parks and so committed to making their neighbourhoods better, for me, that’s a mission accomplished,” said park board commissioner Dave Demers.
Vancouver city councillor and deputy mayor Melissa De Genova attended the official unveiling on Saturday and proclaimed August 17, 2019 as Dude Chilling Day.
“All you have to do is hang out here for a little while and realize that it’s a really nice community,” said Dennis.
“I can’t think of a better place to put my creation than here,” he concluded.