Kelowna has teamed up with two Westbank First Nation artists to give anyone entering the downtown core, via the east end of the downtown portion of Bernard Avenue, a colourful welcome.
Eight brightly coloured, original art banners, created by WFN artists Janine Lott and Jordon Coble now adorn the new poles which the city calls its “Gateway” to the renovated Bernard Avenue at Richter Street. At night, neon light on the poles slowly change colour.
The theme of the banners is The Land is Our Culture and they celebrate the Syilx/Okanagan people and their connection to the land, said Lott.
Using a style that includes both traditional aboriginal art elements, as well as non-traditional aboriginal art, the banners include images of man, the coyote, the bear, plants, water, sun, fish, a cityscape and even the Sail’s sculpture, long an iconic image used by the City of Kelowna.
“Everyone shares the land, the water and the culture of the Okanagan and we need to be considerate of that,” said Lott.
Coble said creating the banners—a project in which Lott mentored him in the studio—took the pair more than 100 hours to create. But he said he is proud of how they turned out and the fact that they are being used as a welcome to not only Kelowna’s downtown but to the traditional territories of his people.
Lott said the idea for the banners—there are five different ones and three are repeated—came from an art exhibition she held at the Kelowna Art Gallery a few years ago that also illustrated her people’s connection to the land.
Both Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray and WFN CHief Robert Louie praised the working relationship the city and WFN have forged over the years, with Louie calling the inclusion of First Nations art on the new-look Bernard Avenue in the heart of Kelowna “very significant.”
Gray called the creation of the banners, and their location, another example of how inclusive he feels has become.
In recent years, City Hall has allowed a large Menorah to be located in Jim Stuart Park across from City Hall during Jewish holiday celebration of Hanukkah, it has thrown its public support behind the annual Pride Festival and has reached out to Indo-Canadian and Asian-Canadian population.
But this latest public art collaboration between the City of Kelowna and WFN is a first for those two organizations. The city specifically wanted First Nations art for the poles, limited competition for the commission to Okanagan First Nation artists. All the artists that submitted submissions were from the WFN.
City officials said the banners continue the place-making approach used throughout the $14 million Bernard Avenue streetscape project.
“The First Nation culture of this area is connected to the natural landscape,” said Pat McCormick, urban design planner. “We’ve reflected that connection along the street by using the Syilx language on inlaid polished pavers describing local flora and fauna and on the Gateway poles where these banners are now displayed.”
The poles include the English word “welcome” and the Sylix word “limlint,” meaning thank you.
Public art installations on the new Bernard Avenue streetscape are used to help create a distinctive sense of place and reinforce the design of the other elements along the street. And Gray said he hopes the public will start to think of Bernard less as a street and more as a “place.”
“It’s time Kelowna had an outdoor mall,” he said Tuesday, alluding to its more pedestrian-friendly approach with wider sidewalks, more sidewalk restaurant seating, decorative lighting and a more inviting feel.
McCormick said street features along Bernard were chosen to be in keeping with the natural elements and history of the Okanagan, with benches and pavers made of natural stone, and light poles that, like the Downtown library building, draw their inspiration from the heavy timbers used in the Kettle Valley Railway trestles,” said McCormick.