The Big Paint-In, 1966
When the BC government decided to install a fountain at the court house (today’s VAG), the premier insisted that the work be kept secret until its official unveiling. Contractors were told to paint the hoarding hiding the fountain green and white (the colours of the ruling Socred Party), but Mayor Rathie had a different idea. He decided to issue permits to art students to paint the hoarding panels and give the three best pieces cash prizes.
The Big Paint-In kicked off with a jurisdictional battle between the City and Province over the plywood fence and a minor tussle between an artist and a contractor. The City won the day and pretty soon more hoarding was added to create enough space for all the artists who signed up. The streets had to be shut down to accommodate the throng of spectators who came by to witness the fence being brought to life.
By all accounts, the whole spectacle was overwhelmingly positive and an antidote for whatever they called “No Fun City” in the 1960s. Sun columnist Jack Wasserman gave his take on the unexpected success of the Paint-In:
The stunt has burgeoned into one of the brightest episodes in our town’s recent history. The response has been spontaneous, youthful and exciting … Everybody has approached the scheme with a single unabashed aim – to have a little fun. It’s the kind of thing one takes for granted in San Francisco. Most attempts to promote similar ventures in our town are usually submerged in serious-minded under organization. For a change it was all very San Vancouver …
The crowds that clustered around the young artists all day long illustrated a lesson that is often lost on the planners and architects. It has to do with the heartbeat of a city, and the places where you find the action.
In our town the action is on Robson street, out around First and Commercial, or Nanaimo and Hastings, and a few other neighbourhoods that are so beat up the bureaucrats keep filing them away for future action. Nobody really cares what anybody does to the store fronts so the design panels and zoning commissioners don’t make too much of an issue of garish cafes and awful neon signs. Nobody, that is, except the people, who don’t really understand all the technicalities, but they know they can breathe in that atmosphere and they happily do.
After the success of the Paint-In, Calgary, Victoria, and other cities soon followed suit. As for the secret fountain, its December unveiling was upstaged by a major downpour and a prankster had dumped soap in the water causing it to spew suds all over the place.
Source: Photo by Leslie F Sheraton, City of Vancouver Archives #2009-001.171