Julia Goudkova spent four days sanding, washing and painting her late partner’s commemorative bench in a Vancouver park, transforming it from a weathered spot covered in bird poop to a piece of colourful artwork.
But the bench in Kitsilano will soon be stripped of the orange, white and turquoise design, and replaced with a generic bench, after the Vancouver Park Board said it violates park rules because it is considered vandalism.
According to city rules, no paint or markings are allowed on park benches. Although residents can buy a bench and plaque to honour someone who has died, the bench remains the city’s property. Each bench costs $5,500 for a 10-year personalized dedication for 10 years.
Goudkova, who has started an online petition to fight the replacement.
The artist said her partner of nine years, Colin Mackay, died in a motorcycle crash on July 2, 2015, making this upcoming Tuesday the four-year anniversary of his passing.
“Colin was many things to many people: son, brother, uncle, friend, teacher, anti-bullying activist, writer, poet, actor, bartender and world-adventurer,” Goudkova wrote in her petition. “To me, he was my soulmate. His infectious, vibrant energy inspired all those around him. He loved life and seized every moment.”
Mackay was a Grade 5 and 6 teacher at Lord Kelvin Elementary School. According to reports by the New Westminster Record, he was popular with students and his death rocked the school community.
To commemorate the anniversary, friends and family plan to gather at the bench on Tuesday and hold a ceremony to “honour the man who had forever touched our lives.”
|Julia Goudkova spent four days transforming a grey and weathered bench into a pop of colour in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood (Julia Goudkova/Facebook).|
The park board had said the bench would be replaced ahead of the long weekend, Goudkova said, but that’s been postponed until after the anniversary.
While a step in the right direction, Goudkova wrote in an update on her petition, she insists her artwork should stay.
While she painted the bench, “almost everyone had stopped to express their appreciation for the art and inquire about [it],” she said. “Sharing my story about Colin had opened up the door for others to share their own stories of loss, love, hope and inspiration.”
The petition had received nearly 2,000 signatures by Friday morning, as well as many comments of support.
“Vancouver needs more art and importantly we need art with a history and soul behind it,” wrote Dylan Nihte.
“This is a beautiful tribute to a life lost. Not to mention it looks a lot nicer than an old, weathered grey bench,” wrote Sunny Denison. “Let it stay! And paint more of them!”
Vandalism or art?
The only rule about paint on benches falls within a park bylaw on vandalism.
In an emailed statement to Black Press Media, park board spokesperson Daria Wojnarski said people can express their grief or honour a loved one with signs, notes, flowers and other objects.
“Guidelines on how these memorials are addressed is highly sensitive, given the varying expectations and emotions involved,” Wokanrski wrote. “We need to balance this with the maintenance, aesthetics, safety and ongoing public use of the amenity.”
But park board commissioner Tricia Barker said the rules need to be expanded to consider how the public sees and enjoys public art.
She said she plans to bring a motion forward during the next board meeting for staff to look into a “bench mural program” that would allow people to have their bench painted through an application process.
I will bring forward a motion for a "Bench Mural Program" at the next @ParkBoard meeting. Let's see if we can get this moving! Thanks to the Julia Goudkova and of course, Collin Mckay. https://t.co/oJfo7RCwmG
— Tricia Barker (@TriciaBarker49) June 28, 2019
“We used to be up front about graffiti on buildings and now we have an outdoor mural program.”