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Opinion: Let's save 'Spidey' and embrace a vibrant, creative urban environment in Vancouver

"It's time to innovate."
The City of Vancouver plans to evict the guerrilla art installation of a giant spider by artist Junko that appeared in mid-March under a bridge in East Van.

Good art can be uncomfortable. It challenges assumptions about how, and where, provocative ideas can be shared. Nowhere is that more apparent than the pearl-clutching reaction to last week's guerrilla installation of a large metallic spider sculpture, which unexpectedly popped up under an East Van bridge.

The City of Vancouver plans to take the unsanctioned piece down, and what a tragedy that would be. Intrepid artist Junko agreed, pleading for citizens to #saveeastvanspidey.

As a lifelong Vancouverite, I'm equipped to say that the no-fun city reputation is well-earned. Bars shut early. The 28-kilometre seawall is still largely closed to the dynamic retail seen in lively, family-friendly coastal cities around the world. Until recently, responsible adults couldn't take an alcoholic beverage to a park. Not to mention, artists of all stripes, like many renters in Vancouver, struggle to find housing, often forced to leave their imaginations behind to pay the bills -- or to leave for more affordable cities. 

The current Mayor and Council's re-energized approach to everything from housing to mental health deserves real credit. Here's another major opportunity to improve the lives of Vancouverites: fully embracing the aesthetic potential of a vibrant urban environment. 

Four steps the City can take to 'revive the spirit of creativity' in Vancouver

It's time to innovate. Let's revive the spirit of creativity with some concrete steps. First, create spaces open to spontaneous installations, provided they're safe for nearby people and infrastructure. Secondly, fast-track proposals, and dial back the lengthy approval-by-committee method that makes public art costly and time-consuming.

Next, equip artists with dedicated public art micro-grants and space on public land. The developer-funded pieces we see today are a good start, as are existing funding streams, but let's supercharge them.

Lastly, the public, rather than bureaucrats or art snobs, should be empowered to decide. And no, I don't mean protracted consultative processes better suited to stymying innovation than fuelling it.

Take the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, built in the 1990s. Citizens picked the wackiest architectural design. Now it defines Vancouver and evokes cool futuristic locales in major Hollywood productions.

From buildings and visual art to music and performance, there's lots to tap into. Let's do a handful of open public polls to accelerate the installation of inspired concepts.

After years of derivative copy-paste architecture, visionary buildings are on the horizon for the Downtown peninsula. Vancouver Community College's stunning Broadway campus design, located in Skwachàys, the City’s Creative District, joins a rapidly-growing roster of projects set to Indigenize the urban landscape.

We need to encourage more like them across the city.

Young innovative artists are ready to emerge, both from post-secondaries and the rich traditions of First Nations communities. Stunning works by Sḵwx̱wú7mesh visual artist James Harry can be seen around Metro Vancouver. The son of master carver Xwalacktun and a graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, he's a bold, generational talent.

The long-term success of talented creatives like him deserves investment and an environment where vision can thrive. 

And personally, I'd be heartbroken if the spider was evicted from its cozy roost.

Margareta Dovgal is a public policy commentator. She runs the annual Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase, where she works with Indigenous entrepreneurs and creators to highlight the importance of cultural revitalization on the path to economic reconciliation. A passionate urbanist, she was born in Downtown Vancouver, rents in South Van, and has spent her 20s championing policy ideas for a more vibrant, prosperous, and inclusive Canada. She can be found on Twitter, @margare7a

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