Twenty-seven things Kaslovians mostly agree on when it comes to public art

As we explained in a previous post, in the spring and summer of 2014, two of us interviewed 55 citizens of this area about public art in Kaslo and North Kootenay Lake. Our intention at the get-go was to get feedback on the nitty-gritty of the draft public art policy, but we quickly realized that what people really wanted to talk about was public art itself, not just policy, and we revised our questions accordingly. Considering that public art can sometimes be a contentious, hot-button topic, and given that many of us around here make it a point of honour not to agree on anything, we were pleasantly surprised—actually we were shocked—to discover how much agreement there was.

What follows, then, is the points on which most of the people we talked with agreed.

The context of public art in Kaslo is very important to nearly everyone.  Much of what follows is outside the bailiwick of KPASAC Kaslo Public Art Select Advisory Committee), but nevertheless provides this context. A number of people hoped that KPASAC will coordinate with those responsible for these other aspects of Kaslo’s overall visual landscape: other Village committees, non-profits, business owners, individuals.  In any case, nearly all agreed that whatever Kaslo does with public art should complement and enhance this overall visual environment, and be enhanced by it. This includes the following:

> Kaslo’s natural setting (mountains, forest, lake, rivers, streams, clouds, wildlife);

The village’s historic / iconic buildings (e.g. Old Village Hall, St. Andrew’s United Church and St. Mark’s Anglican Church, the Langham Cultural Centre, and many others);

Seniors Hall, Kaslo. ©DBorsosphoto

> The Moyie, our lovingly-restored sternwheeler;

> The village’s trees. Those we interviewed felt that too many trees are being cut down.  Everyone we interviewed expects that, if cutting is necessary, maximum transparency and accountability, and overwhelmingly people like and want trees in the village, and consider them a vital part of the village’s visual landscape;

>  Municipal  gardens, verges, parks, and the foreshore. (There has been some disagreement over the degree to which the foreshore has been groomed, but that’s another story. The point here is that the foreshore matters to people.)

The Kaslo River Trail, including its information signage, walking tour, benches, and of course its two pedestrian bridges;

The first of two of Kaslo Trailblazer’s beautiful foot bridges

> The historic look of Front St, as maintained according to Village guidelines. (Everyone likes the guidelines, but also believes that in the interest of fairness, all businesses must follow them. What people resent is lax or inconsistent enforcement, not the guidelines themselves.);

> The village’s signage.  Our interviews did not focus on municipal signage nor does the Public Art Policy cover it, but a number of interviewees stressed the role that municipal signage plays in visually defining a small community, and in directing visitors toward key spots (e.g. the historic downtown).  One informant praised Silverton’s as well as Crawford Bay’s distinctive and pleasing signs, which are based on a consistent template throughout that village.  This may be something the Village wishes to explore in future.

> Yard Art.  A number of interviewees talked about the delights of Kaslo’s yard art, which is to say, art on private residential property.  Dragons atop roofs; rows of flagpoles flying flags from around the world; fences using cross-country skis as pickets, outdoor paintings, folk poetry offering words of advice to passersby, fibreglass wildlife, and of course, everywhere, constructions of driftwood and riverrock: this list barely scratches the surface. While in no way under the jurisdiction of the Public Art Policy, these exhuberant and highly imaginative displays enhance Kaslo for locals and tourists alike, and to some extent help define a distinctly funky and playful West Kootenay culture.

What our interviewees want to see in Kaslo, in terms of public art itself, they agreed that all pieces should be:

> of high artistic quality and craftsmanship, whatever genre they may be,

> original, dynamic, interesting, i.e. not “the same old thing,” derivative or cliched,

> from the artist’s heart and unique vision, i.e. artistically authentic, challenging in some cases, but intended neither to pander nor to gratuitously shock (e.g. “meat art”), nor to intimidate those who don’t “get it”,

imbued with a sense of place (i.e. this place!)



©DBorsos photo.    This lovely piece of public art ” Loggers Prayer Wheel” by Kate Tupper, offers a crossover between the arts and forestry sectors; both important parts of our community.



> thoughtfully placed in appropriate locations,

> properly maintained at all times, and

> appropriately and respectfully deaccessioned when need be.

> Kaslo should not become a theme park filled with a single genre of work, but rather, should feature a variety of genres and subject matter, reflecting Kaslo’s diversity and different people’s tastes. That said, “mini-themes” can provide a sense of coherence without taking over the village. Suggestions included environment, history, wildlife, music—anything reflecting a sense of place.

Nor did anyone want Kaslo to have a giant novelty mascot like those one sees in so many small towns (e.g. Mr. PeeGee in Prince George). All but one interviewee said they did not want a giant inflatable pot-smoking, chainsaw-wielding unicorn with a tie-dyed hard hat greeting visitors at the bridge (though most agreed that something in that spot would be good). In six words: no kitsch, nothing garish, nothing gigantic.

No one said they wanted overtly devotional religious imagery, and several said they didn’t.

Nothing that anyone might consider obscene (“unless it’s by someone too famous for us to afford anyway”)  or racist.

Placement is very important. And if something turns out to not “work” in a particular location, it’s okay to move it after a period of time.

General rule of thumb: make potentially controversial or “challenging” pieces temporary rather than permanent, especially at the beginning. And in general, rotation should be the norm rather than the exception.

Many appreciate the spontaneity (and sometimes topicality) of rogue art, and believes this contributes significantly to our local culture and identity.

Likewise re. roadside shrines and other memorials.

Art by small children, while charming,  should be placed judiciously.

Re. the May Days mural on the wall of Kaslo Community Pharmacy:  except for one person, everyone agreed it has been delightful but is reaching the end of its lifespan.

We found a great deal of enthusiasm for performance in public places (by this we mean village-owned spaces where no entrance fee is charged). While performance per se (e.g. music, theatre) is outside the scope of KPASAC, and the village’s policies and procedures re. performance are already in place, Kaslovians would likely respond well to visual art / performance crossovers. Ryan Cook’s public performance as he chainsaw-carved Kaslo’s Protectors (Osprey and Tree Spirit) at Loggersports in May 2014 was very popular.  In other cases, where no permanent installation results, such performances can be a way of trying edgier / riskier projects.

Ryan Cook working on his chainsaw project at Loggers Sports, 2015.  ©DHunterphoto

People expressed a strong preference for local artists rather than imports, unless there is no one local able to meet the needs of a particular project.

Everyone agreed that everyone would never agree on anything to do with public art. And yet when we asked people about the pieces already in place, nearly everyone agreed that they were all suitable. Everyone we pointed this out to agreed it was a curious paradox.


How Kaslo’s Public Art Policy Came to Be

If you experience a frisson of visceral pleasure whenever you encounter the phrase “public policy” or the word “governance,” then today we have the blogpost for you. Kaslo can modestly claim to be the smallest village in British Columbia to possess a Public Art Policy (please contact us if you wish to contest this), and given that apart from our four war memorials, the Village possesses only two pieces of public art (see our Inventory of Public Art in Kaslo), we can also boast the highest art policy-to-actual-art ratio (or as Albertans might say, hat-to-cattle ratio) of any jurisdiction anywhere.


Here, then, is how our policy came to be.

In the spring of 2014, we (D. Borsos and D. Jackson) discovered from an item in the Valley Voice‘s coverage of the Village of Kaslo’s council minutes that Kaslo did not have a public art policy, and that this was impeding the village’s ability to acquire public art. After brief consultation with the village’s CAO, we volunteered to write such a policy for the Village of Kaslo, and the CAO agreed.

We looked online for other small communities’ public art policies which could serve as models for Kaslo’s.  Finding nowhere as small as Kaslo with a policy of this kind, we chose policies from three somewhat larger places that we could adapt to Kaslo’s population of 2,500 (village and surrounding area). These places were Gibsons, B.C. Canada (pop. 4,100), Nelson, B.C., Canada (population 10,000), and Cairns, Australia (pop. 151,000).  We then culled ideas and language from each of these to create an initial draft policy for Kaslo.

We thank Gibsons, Nelson,  and Cairns for the use of their excellent material and the inspiration it provided. Thanks also to Lynda Lafleur, then Northwest Regional Liaison for the Columbia Basin Trust, and Joy Barrett, Cultural Development Officer for Nelson B.C. Both these people were very helpful with their time and suggestions as to the initial design of our public art policy.


Designing the Policy

The next step was to use the rough draft as a basis for eliciting input from the community, and to create a process for getting that input. We identified the following priorities:

1. The process should be inclusive, thorough and as fair as possible.  We steered cleer of the community meeting format, because in our experience too many people would not attend; of those who did, a handful of outspoken people would be likely to dominate.  Therefore we decided to interview people one and two at a time, so that everyone could speak freely.

2. We should ask a broad range of questions to gather as much information as possible from participants.  We wanted to gain a comprehensive sense of what Kaslo’s existing public art means to the village’s  residents, and what kinds of public art they would like to see (or not) in the future. Another aim was to invite people to consider more generally the various roles that public art can play in enhancing our community.

3. We should include as many of the key stakeholders in Kaslo’s arts and cultural community as possible.  Of the 59 people or groups we approached, 55 were more than willing to be interviewed. (Note: we will explore the question of who is a stakeholder in a future post.)

4. We should take as much time as needed for each interview.  Initially we planned for each interview to take 20 minutes, but some were as long as three hours, which attests to the level of interest we encountered.  We thank everyone who we intewrviewed for their generosity with their time.

5. We should follow a timeline.  The project began in March 2014; interviews began in April, and in early July we made a presentation to Kaslo Village Council to inform them how the project was coming along and when we could present the draft policy to them for final acceptance. In early September, we presented the policy and guidelines to Council, along with recommended names for the Public Art Advisory Committee (see below). Council accepted the policy and appointed the recommended people to the newly-created committee.

We stayed in communication with the CAO throughout this time, and we believe the process went more smoothly as a result.

Choosing the Public Art Advisory Committee

From the beginning, our rough draft policy stipulated that council appoint a Public Art Advisory Committee, made up of local residents and, as required by Council, one council appointee.  We asked each person we interviewed who they would like to see on such a committee. A number of people suggested that key arts and cultural groups should be invited to each appoint a committee member representing that group. Most people, however, named individuals who they felt would do a good job.


After completing the interviews, we reviewed the list of recommended names from various perspectives:  gender, age, experience in the arts, work as an artist, and other relevant skills.  With these in mind, we assembled a list of five names to recommend to Council. In asking the five if they were willing, we also asked each of them, individually, if they could happily work with the rest of the committee. All of them said yes. We went to these lengths in order to maximize the Public Art Advisory Committee’s long-term chances of success.

Following the first meeting of the committee, we formally concluded our association with the project.   We offered to discuss with them any specific issues that might arise pertaining to the work we had done, but beyond that,  the policy and committee were now under the auspices of the Village of Kaslo CAO and Council. (Since then, just for the record, we have both joined the committee, which is now known as KPASAC–the Kaslo Public Art Select Advisory Committee.)

To see the Village’s Public Art Policy, please click here.

The value(s) of public art…

Some pieces of public art go unnoticed except by a few sharp-eyed people who are looking for what is different or unique about a place. The value of a public art installation, whether it is stationary or mobile, permanent or short-lived, historically significant or of-the- moment, reflects the character of a place and is hard to quantify in terms of economic value. Culturally or socially it may hold much greater value than a dollar sign would imply. These things help to tie a community together and foster a sense of identity.

Labyrinth, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, 601 5th Street, Kaslo, BC. Photo by Deb Borsos.

One way public art can create value is when an audience watches or even participates in it being made. This has happened each May since 2014 at Kaslo’s MayDays Logger Sports arena, where celebrity chainsaw carver Ryan Cook has worked/performed with enthusiastic audiences. His first work, in 2014, was Kaslo’s Protectors, a pair of ospreys perched atop a pedestal with a tree spirit carved in the post, appropriate to our area and now located downtown, on Water Street, on the edge of Kootenay Lake. In addition to entertaining and educating audiences while being carved, Kaslo’s Protectors now enriches visitors’ visual experience as they explore the village. Cook’s work gains value from being donated to the village by LoggerSports, associated with Kaslo’s tradition of forestry: not the first sector you think of when public art is considered, but a significant part of what makes up the culture of Kaslo and area.

Does public art always have to be serious? Heck no. Sometimes, what becomes endearing and enduring about a piece of artwork, what makes it part of the community, is unexpected additions…

The ospreys of  Kaslo’s Protectors have shown an astounding ability to  keep track of holidays and special events! They have appeared dressed up for Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, May Days, and most recently, on Labour Day in acknowledgement of workers around the globe and specifically Kaslo’s Village Crew.

Kaslo’s Protectors (Ospreys and Tree Spirit), Water Street, Kaslo, BC. The fine porint at the top of the sign says, “Ospreys & Tree Spirit wish Kaslo’s Public Works Crew a Happy Labour Day.”  Photo copyright E. Fry.

Mostly, public art is found in larger centres with bigger populations and a larger tax base to support such things.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be found elsewhere and help to support smaller centres as well as adding to the character of a small town. Revelstoke, BC,  just a few hours up the winding road from Kaslo, features a magnificent sculpture of a grizzly bear mother and cub at the entrance to the town. Since its installation, hundreds upon hundreds of visitors to Revelstoke have stopped to have their photos taken beside it, and by so doing have created lasting memories for people far beyond those of Revelstoke. It is one more feature the town has to offer its visitors to stay, explore, and perhaps return in future.


Bears, Revelstoke, BC. Photo courtesy of