Beth Threlfall painted tiger and zebra stripes on poles near an intersection at Bay and Chambers Streets, near George Jay Elementary, to warn drivers about a crosswalk used frequently by young students as they travel to school and back. File contributed/ John Threlfall Beth Threlfall painted tiger and zebra stripes on poles near an intersection at Bay and Chambers Streets, near George Jay Elementary, to warn drivers about a crosswalk used frequently by young students as they travel to school and back. BC Hydro is no longer allowing poles to be painted. (Photo Courtesy of John Threlfall)

Fernwood’s painted poles no more

BC Hydro shuts down decade-old public art initiative after complaints, safety concerns

From sunflowers and birds to Pokemon and geometric shapes, Fernwood’s art-covered poles are a hallmark of the artsy Victoria nook. But a new decision from BC Hydro is putting an end to the resident-created instalments.

A decade ago the hydro pole art phenomena swept the little community, with dozens beautifying otherwise unnoticeable urban necessities. BC Hydro was never directly involved in the community programs that encouraged pole painting, but it did give permission to those who asked.

READ ALSO: Pole painting sweeps Fernwood

As the art pole movement spread – picking up traction on Gabriola Island, in Nanaimo and other up-Island communities – it became clear that not everyone saw the painted poles as “beautification.”

“We had people supportive of it and people who were not supportive of it,” said Ted Olynyk, community relations manager for BC Hydro. “They didn’t like the art [because] they now saw the pole whereas before they didn’t see the pole.”

Complaints came in – but not just from residents. Hydro workers also had concerns about the paint degrading the integrity of the structure or hiding signs of damage.

Olynyk said the paint can retain moisture and disguise wear and tear. “From an operational and safety perspective, it can degrade the life of the pole,” he said.

Another concern was the quality of art. Not all of it was necessarily considered sightly, and even the quality pieces began to fade over time, the paint changing colour and settling into the grooves of the western red cedar. And liability is a consideration too – with poles typically located next to roads, Olynyk said artists could be at risk of being hit.

READ ALSO: Local artists dress up bus shelters across Victoria

BC Hydro won’t be coming into communities and destroying the artwork, but if residents complain, the art will be considered graffiti and painted over. Future requests to paint BC Hydro poles will be denied.

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