Drainspotting: Vancouver’s Art Underfoot manhole cover contest

Daderot / Wikimedia Commons
Susan A. Point and Kelly Cannell’s winning storm sewer design on the streets of Vancouver Daderot / Wikimedia Commons

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—but only if you look down to see it. Next year, Vancouver will begin to add intricate artwork to its sewer and drain covers system-wide.

Inspired by similar efforts in Seattle, Kyoto and Calgary, Vancouver proposed a contest to redesign this familiar, but unsightly, symbol of city streets.

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Over the summer, 643 design entries flowed in. That number was whittled down to a shortlist of 30, and finally two winners were chosen.

The winning artists picked up $2,000 each for their designs. Susan A. Point and Kelly Cannell’s storm sewer design features native Coast Salish tadpoles. Jen Weih’s sanitary sewer design was of a farm of bubbling bacterial orbs.

The one-time cost to design the lids for mass production will cost $20,000, to be taken out of the city’s art budget.

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The City of Vancouver spends about $94,000 a year to buy and replace the 200-pound, cast-iron covers.

The cost to affix artwork adds $9,000 a year to that total.

There are over 25,000 covers in Vancouver, and each has a life span of about 100 years.

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About Robert J. Ballantyne

Robert Ballantyne is Artsculture's Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets.

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