VIU Visual Art Student Displays Work at Maffeo Sutton Park

Visual Arts student Ben Sopow installed a metal sculpture in Maffeo Sutton Park in May.

June 21, 2018 - 12:45pm

Ben Sopow is one of 13 artists participating in the Temporary Public Art Program

For many student artists, going from the private process of making art in a studio to displaying a finished piece in a public space is a big step.

A Vancouver Island University (VIU) Visual Art student has taken the leap from the classroom to the park this year with one of his sculptures on display at Maffeo Sutton Park as part of the City of Nanaimo’s Temporary Public Art Program.

Every year, the city transforms this high-traffic park into an outdoor art gallery, and Ben Sopow’s aluminum and Plexiglas piece, Everything Happens So Much, is among the 11 pieces of art on display over the next year for community members and visitors from around the world to enjoy.

“I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” says Sopow. “It is satisfying to apply the skills I learned as a VIU student to realize this project in the larger community of Nanaimo.”

Sopow taught art and other subjects to elementary school children for 30 years and spent his summers painting landscapes. A desire to hone his art skills brought him to VIU when he retired a decade ago.  

“What really draws me about the Visual Art Program is the community that is formed in these studio art classes,” says Sopow, who is also involved with the University’s Peer Supervised Learning program as a physics tutor and the Outdoor Recreation Outrigger Canoe Racing Team. “You’ll spend hours and hours in the studio with other students finishing projects. The emphasis is really on honing your art-making skills. The University also builds career into the instruction, and provides opportunities to participate in real exhibits.”

This isn’t Sopow’s first experience with public art. Thanks in part to mentorship from his instructors, including Visual Art Professor Jason Gress, he’s already had artwork displayed at the Port Theatre, Milner Gardens, the Natural History Museum and Literacy Central Vancouver Island, where he is a member of the board.  

Through a directed studies course, Sopow was mentored by Gress on every step in the process of getting his piece in the Temporary Public Art Program, from concept and submitting the proposal, to producing his vision, which was more difficult than he expected. For example, in order for the aluminum to be cut with a water jet, Sopow had to enlist the help of a friend with graphic design experience to create a digital file of his project.

“What struck me about this project was the collaboration needed to complete it – at times I was more like a project manager,” he says.

Gress says having a student conceive of and produce a public art project as part of a course, and then having that art exist in the public domain for an extended period of time is unique. In fact, Sopow is the first Visual Art student to participate in the Temporary Public Art Program.

“This project represents a deep connection between VIU Visual Art students and the wider community,” he says. “Also, because the work is being displayed at Maffeo Sutton Park, it’s likely that visitors from all over the world will get to experience Ben’s artwork.”

Everything Happens So Much is a square sculpture featuring four colours in four different quadrants, which Sopow says represents diversity and balance in the world.

“It’s a reflection of me, the optimist,” he explains. “To me, 7.2 billion people getting along together every day is a miracle. Compared to everything else that’s going on in the world, war, crime and violence is only a small part of the human story.”

Sopow’s design is not the only VIU connection in the City’s Temporary Public Art program this year – also on display is work by Welding alumni Sheldon Murphy and Heather Wall, and Graphic Design alum Laura Timmermans, who co-produced a piece with her brother, Michael, who is a current VIU student in the Bachelor of Business Administration program.

Chris Barfoot, the City’s Culture and Heritage Coordinator, says the strong VIU connection was not the intention of the program, but it seems to be happening naturally.

“We’re really grateful for the opportunities the program is creating for local artists, and bringing the artwork produced at VIU downtown is just a win-win for everybody,” he says.

For more information, visit the Visual Art homepage.




Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Visual Arts | Student Success

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