An urban screen opening in Surrey

I walked by the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in Surrey on Friday, December 2 at 5:50 pm. It was still early, but in winter, when the sun sets at around 4pm or 4:30pm it seemed like 8pm. At least it wasn’t snowing.

And that’s what it said on the side of the rec centre. “At least it’s not snow.”

The whole wall had single words and news headlines splashed in projected light all over it.

It was opening night. There was a fold-out table, covered in blue cloth. Hot chocolate sat in a snug dispenser. Insulated. A tray of chocolate cookies. And literature. Four neat piles of papers and brochures. I stared at the wall, reading headlines. I glanced at the table. A woman in red saw the opportunity.

“Are you here for the opening?” she asked.

I confessed I was there by accident, but politely asked what was going on.

This is Surrey Urban Screen, part of an “outreach program of the Surrey Art Gallery.” [city site source] It’s been active since the Olympics, over a year and a half ago. You can see it on the left-hand side from the Skytrain as you head from Gateway to Surrey Central. For those of you in Vancouver, that’s on the other side of the bridge.

December 2 was the opening for Electric Speed, Part One, by Melissa Mongiat and Mouna Andraos. The basic idea is that it’s a collage of headlines from the past year. Viewers can participate by texting to a phone number that’s on the side of the building. It runs until January 15. Part 2 runs from January 27 to March 31, and shows the work of Jon Sasaki, Jeremy Bailey, Jillian McDonald and Will Gill.

5:55 pm. There were about 20 people on the edge of the parking lot looking at the wall, the urban screen. Four art gallery volunteers huddled around the hot chocolate table. It was cold. I noticed three, no, four toques. Skateboarders glided along the sidewalks next to the building. There’s a skate park right next door to the Chuck Bailey rec centre. A few brave lads ventured over to the hot chocolate. It lured them to urban screen and ART. After a few quick sips they hurried back to the skate park, to reality, to their world.

A few lingered for the cookies. They have short fixed-gear trick bikes. They dropped them casually onto the sidewalk. Cookies. Hot chocolate. It must have been close to freezing.

“Why is it here?” I asked one of the docents. I’m curious why this wall, why this space for this program. She doesn’t know.

“It’s urban screen,” she said.

A boy with a red rhino on his helmet asked “Can I take a sheet and read it later?” He held a cookie.

The docents were enthralled. Success! Urban screen touched the youth of the nation.

Where were the artists? It’s opening night. 6:04 pm. There were now about 22 people in the parking lot. No artists. The art people stood a respectful distance from the art, and from the hot chocolate. The youths came and went. Some of the art people ventured to the table too, but then quickly retreated to the safety zone of the parking lot.

There was a talk at SFU Surrey the same night about urban screens. It was given by Mirjam Struppek, who’s from Germany. She writes about urban screens, about lights on walls. And this night, December 2 she talked about them. SFU Surrey is just up the street, maybe a kilometer away.

“They don’t have walls in Germany?” I asked the docent. I’m not sure she got the reference.

Inside the rec centre some girls played badminton.

Outside there were two groups of people: the art people who stood in the parking lot looking at urban screen, and to the side about 20 or so young people using the skate park. They did tricks with bikes and skateboards. In between was the table. The hot chocolate and cookies. The literature. And behind it all was urban screen.


Born and raised in Surrey, Don Schuetze has returned to the land of his youth after about a quarter of a century elsewhere. But do you ever really leave? Don works for a media company in Vancouver as a production hack, schlepping together print and online products. Reach him through his half-done site which is all about, wait for it… Surrey.

One comment

  1. Aww.. so basically what it seems to come down to is this: people from the lower mainland are interested in art and culture, but are too shy (and/or discouraged) to engage in it.

    i’m sure people will come out of their shells eventually. metro vancouver is a relatively new city. it takes time for a new urban centre to cultivate.

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