'The more hands, the better'

Port Coquitlam's new arts and culture co-ordinator aims for community engagement with an environmental focus.

When Robi Smith was the Fern Crescent artist-in-residence for the city of Maple Ridge, a position she held for more than four years, her aim was to get more residents involved in art projects.

And to appreciate the natural world around them.

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In the summers, Smith held public workshops to build hundreds of lanterns of all shapes and sizes to reflect the wildlife around the Alouette River.

Over the course of two September weekends, Smith and a group of dedicated volunteers would decorate the wooded pathway at Crosses Cabin Park, close to Davidson’s Pool, for A River of Light, an evening installation that would draw out many visitors to celebrate Mother Earth.

Now, Smith is working for the city of Port Coquitlam as its arts and culture co-ordinator (replacing Klara Manhal, who in February took a public art program job at TransLink) and she hopes to re-create the same collaborative energy for PoCo’s civic spaces and along its trails.

“I feel like the more hands, the better,” she said during an interview last month with The Tri-City News. “It’s really the key to ownership and pride. People want something meaningful for their community and I’m just here as their guide.”

Smith, who last year obtained her master of education degree in arts for social change from SFU, is well known for animating public areas with environmental-themed art.

For two years, Smith organized a parade called Birds! Birds! Birds! in honour of the Vancouver International Bird Festival and the International Ornithological Congress. She also helped grade 6 and 7 students at Kanaka Creek elementary to design and paint a series of murals at their school and, for three years, Smith got Strathcona residents involved in creating an art map of nature for their Vancouver neighbourhood.

As for PoCo, “I appreciate the small-town feel here and its connection to nature especially the trail system. There’s so much where art can play a part.”


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