Don Gayton: The Art of the Overpass
Summerland's public art scene received a boost with the recent completion of a colourful mural on a local highway overpass. The project idea sprang from the municipality's Community Cultural Development Committee (CCDC), and became a reality through collaboration between John Topham of CCDC, and Thurein Myint, a local artist.
Summerland is divided into Upper Town and Lower Town (the waterfront), and Peach Orchard Road connects the two. A large concrete overpass Highway 97 straddles Peach Orchard Road. "The overpass was an obvious site for a mural, since it kind of forms a gateway between town and beach," says Topham. He and the committee asked Myint for a conceptual sketch. Myint came back with not one, but two sketches; one for each side of the overpass. "I worked on the gateway idea, so that people heading towards the lake would see a beach and water theme, and people coming up would see a town theme," said Myint.
The project was all set to go ahead when Topham encountered a major obstacle: the Ministry of Transportation and Highways, the owner of the overpass, had a strict policy banning any writing or ornamentation on highway structures, for public safety reasons. Not one to give up easily, Topham contacted various individuals within the ministry to describe the project, and showed them examples of "overpass art" from other jurisdictions, notably Texas and Arizona, where such murals are common. After some discussion, ministry officials agreed to ornamentation, but text would not be allowed. "We were fortunate in that the murals would be facing a municipal road (Peach Orchard). If they were facing a provincial highway, we could not have gone ahead," said Topham.
With funding from the Summerland Community Arts Council, cooperation from the municipality (which loaned a "bucket truck" as a working platform) and a host of volunteer flagpersons, Myint went to work on his murals. A multitalented artist and musician originally from Burma, Myint knew that successful public art is a marriage of artist preference and public acceptance. "For the beach mural I used a decorative, almost floral theme; and for the town mural, I worked in Summerland's twin themes of Tudor-style architecture and fruit."
The result was the first-ever mural on a highway overpass in British
Columbia. Ministry officials were pleased with the result, and
community reaction has been very positive. "Public art becomes part of the
culture of a community," says Topham.
Samples of Myint's work can be seen at www.thureinmyint.com.
Don Gayton is an ecologist and writer, based in Summerland.
His Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the
Garden will be published by Thistledown Press in 2007.
Thurein Myint and John Topham