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Plywood wall art project at Douglas Park deemed 'too risky' by Langley City council

A municipal art project intended to allow people to share their personal aspirations in a public place has been deemed too risky to mount.

The proposal by the City of Langley’s Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee asked council to endorse the installation of a piece of plywood, covered in chalkboard paint and bearing the phrase “Before I Die, I Want To …” on the west outer wall of the Douglas Recreation Centre. People would then be invited to pick up a piece of chalk and complete the sentence by sharing their own hopes and dreams.

However, it was turned down by council on Jan. 27, after some councillors suggested it would be too easy to abuse.

The most vocal opponent of the project, which was suggested to the RCPAAC by a man named Barry Whaites, was Councillor Dave Hall.

“At first blush, I thought the whole idea of a wall with a death theme is, quite frankly, morbid,” Hall said.

Perhaps a more appropriate line would be “Before It’s Too Late” or “ Before I’m Too Old” he suggested.

“What’s the difference?” interjected Councillor Rosemary Wallace, who chairs the RCPAAC.

“That was at first blush. Then I got thinking about how really stupid this whole idea is — about what might transpire,” Hall continued.

“There are any number of people that are going to put stuff down that will be of a community standard that some consider offensive,” he said, offering a couple suggestions of his own, including: “Before I Die I Want To hop into bed with Christy and her pet poodle,” which earned groans from his fellow council members.

Such a wall offers potential for graffiti, obscenities and racism under licence of art, Hall said.

“Who’s going to be the morality police? It should be sent back to the committee and some of these questions asked,” said Hall.

“I dislike this piece of art and I dislike the process. The public should have (the opportunity for) feedback. They may disagree with me, but I would like them to come up and tell me.”

Councillor Jack Arnold also voiced concerns about a “Before I Die” wall, saying he wasn’t sure the structure should be permanent.

“Is this being done anywhere else?” he asked. “If so, are there any problems?”

“I’m not going to support this,” said Councillor Gayle Martin. “I Googled ‘Before I Die Wall Vancouver.’ It was messy-looking. I don’t think it’s very attractive,” she said, adding she isn’t sure whose job it would be to clean it.

“I think there’s a certain opportunity for obscenities being put there.”

“Wow,” replied Wallace. “I didn’t expect such a response.”

The RCPAAC is all about public engagement, she said, adding the wall would give residents and visitors a place to interact.

The committee held a lengthy discussion about the risks, Wallace said, but noted that any piece of art can be defaced and that a public art wall could, in fact, offer an opportunity to build trust.

According to the website, beforeidie.cc, which includes images of each ‘Before I Die’ wall, there are 425 walls in 30 languages across 65 countries — including several across Canada.

Wallace’s motion died following a tie vote, with Wallace, Councillor Teri James and acting mayor Ted Schaffer voting in favour of the project and Hall, Martin and Arnold opposed.

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