New home found for digital art of Surrey’s UrbanScreen, unplugged 18 months ago in Whalley

Surrey’s decommissioned UrbanScreen will be turned on again at a new venue downtown.

The digital art screen, shut down at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre 18 months ago, will find new life at nearby Surrey Civic Plaza, but a timeline and other details are not yet finalized.

Word of UrbanScreen’s return was noted in a federal government news release Oct. 12 detailing PacifiCan funding of just over $1 million for three public-space projects in Surrey. Surrey Art Gallery Association will get $750,000 to “revitalize Surrey’s Civic Plaza using art displayed through UrbanScreen,” the release noted.

After 12 years of operation, UrbanScreen stopped showcasing digital art at Chuck Bailey, on the west wall of the Whalley building, in May 2022, due to expansion plans for the rec centre.

At the time, gallery operators hinted that the digital projection system might one day move to another site in Surrey, if and when grant funding was secured.

“Civic Plaza has been identified as an advantageous site,” Laurie Cavan, Surrey’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, told the Now-Leader in an email Wednesday, Oct. 18.

“We are excited and appreciative of federal funding, through PacifiCan, to help us realize this project,” Cavan added. “We are still working through a technical review and look forward to sharing more news in due course.”

A new-look UrbanScreen appears connected to Surrey’s plans for an interactive art museum, pitched in 2018 as a “cultural catalyst” for the downtown core. In December 2021 the city sent out a request for expressions of interest (RFEOI) noting a budget of $60 million and plan to have the museum opened by 2025.

Once billed as “Canada’s largest art-dedicated outdoor screen,” UrbanScreen was decommissioned at Chuck Bailey following the digital art show “Body as Border: Traces and Flows of Connection,” shown in the after-dark hours from Feb. 12 to May 1, 2022.

In 2020, a book called Art After Dark marked the 10th anniversary of UrbanScreen, the creation of which began in 2009 among artists involved in Surrey Art Gallery’s TechLab, which was then a decade-old hub for digital art.

In its decade-plus of operation, “many other institutions have been inspired by UrbanScreen’s programming model: non-commercial, site-specific, artist-led media visible to a mass audience,” Rhys Edwards, assistant curator, noted in Surrey Art Gallery’s guide to winter 2022 programs.

On a 30-metre-wide “screen” obscured by some doors and windows, UrbanScreen used data projectors to illuminate the rec centre’s wall with imagery generated by computers and other technologies, including a virtual piano, SkyTrain and tidal level readers, gaming engines and unmanned aerial video copters.

In 2017, programmers of UrbanScreen received an award for outstanding achievement from the Canadian Museums Association (CMA), in the New Media category.

– with a file from Anna Burns

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