Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces


May 2, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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The (Trans) Am Totem Pole and the (Trans)it Referendum

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By Amanda Mackaay, photo from Roaming-the-Planet


It’s not Lions Gate Bridge traffic or Massey Tunnel backups that everyone is talking about these days; it’s the five car traffic jam atop a 20 foot high cedar stump that is attracting attention. I’m referring to the Trans Am Totem Pole; The Vancouver Biennale’s latest addition to the bi-annual public art exhibition.

A bit of background on The Vancouver Biennale: it is a charitable, not for profit organization that attempts to foster community engagement, social action and education through the creation of unique pieces of art in public spaces. The goal of The Vancouver Biennale goes hand in hand with the VPSN as it advocates that good public art is integral for the creation of liveable and culturally inspired communities with a deep sense of inter-connectedness. It attempts to create a space where people of different ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds can come together and identify with the piece in some way.

This particular piece was completed by local artist Marcus Bowcott, who uses the sculpture to allude to the transformation of the False Creek area from a First Nations community to an industrial center to a densely populated neighborhood defined by traffic and high-rises. He argues that Vancouver has moved further away from a connection to its natural landscape and more towards a consumer culture. Whether you see this piece as a quirky new addition to Vancouver’s art inventory or merely an eye sore, there is no doubt that it will continue to be a topic of discussion and will serve as a platform to engage the community on the issues of consumerism and sustainable development in Vancouver.

The timing of the piece could not be more perfect in my opinion as we are currently in the midst of a Transit Referendum. The Transit Referendum is giving Vancouverites the opportunity to say yes to more sustainable ways of growing and developing the social, economic and physical landscape of Vancouver. The Trans Am Totem Pole touches on the struggle between the need to continue the development of Vancouver into a metropolitan center and the social and ecological concerns that come with this development. Bowcott said there was a reason he chose the intersection of where Pacific Boulevard meets Quebec Street at the end of False Creek as “this site now is this major transit hub: we’ve got these stadiums for spectacle; we’ve got the SkyTrain; we’ve got the viaduct; we’ve got condo towers. It’s about this mobile culture and it’s a throwaway culture. It raises ecological concerns.” The Transit Referendum and the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan are two salient planning initiatives in Vancouver right now that aim to promote a more sustainable and liveable future for Vancouver. This piece will hopefully draw attention to these two initiatives and encourage Vancouverites to become engaged in the policy making process that will decide what kind of future we want for Vancouver. 

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