New Westminster News Leader

Sprucing up storefronts

Rick Carswell, Arts Council of New Westminster president, and Faeine Grant, of Rethink Real Estate, are behind the idea of putting art by local artists in empty storefronts. - Mario Bartel/NewsLeader
Rick Carswell, Arts Council of New Westminster president, and Faeine Grant, of Rethink Real Estate, are behind the idea of putting art by local artists in empty storefronts.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

To Rick Carswell, seeing vacant storefronts is kind of like looking at a hockey player laughing.

"A nice smile is marred by a missing tooth. And the smile of our shopping spaces could be marred by a vacant space, and we're proposing to keep the smile," says Carswell, president of the Arts Council of New Westminster.

Carswell recently went to city council proposing Store Front New West, an initiative to have local artists' works spruce up empty storefronts until they are leased out. It's a way for the arts council to get its works seen throughout the city instead of just at its gallery in Queen's Park or its Starlight Casino satellite location.

"We need to get out on the streets, having satellite galleries only does so much for us," said Carswell.

They're modeling their initiative after a similar program in Seattle.

Carswell said the group has already had good response from Tourism New Westminster and from his appearance at city council on Feb. 5.

"Much to my surprise they all jumped up and down and thought it was fantastic," said Carswell.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr is proposing a motion at the next council meeting on Monday calling for city staff to help Store Front New West identify owners of vacant storefront properties.

"It's all part of the plan to clean up the streets. I've always been a firm believer in economic development starting with places making people feel safe and comfortable when they're there, and to provide an artistic nature to it," said Puchmayr. "It's a win-win (for the arts council, the businesses and the city)."

The biggest obstacle is access. Carswell said the organization has already been working with leasing agents, and it can be often difficult determining who owners are with many of them not being from New Westminster.

"They would keep the lease signs up, we're just making it pretty in the meantime," said Carswell. "I can't think of too many leasing agents who wouldn't want their properties [spruced up with art]."

The arts council would also like to be able to have volunteers in the store to make it a temporary gallery, but there are many issues to be resolved such as heating and lighting costs before that can happen.

Initially, Carswell said, they would target Columbia Street to keep it as vibrant as possible.

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