Student wins street banner contest

The design hangs on 150 street poles like this one in Surrey. - SFU University Relations

An SFU student is making the streets of downtown Surrey a little bit more cheerful.

In her second year in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, student Nancy Chen won Surrey’s 2015 Public Art Street Banner Design competition with her entry, “Cycle.”

Chen’s banner was chosen out of 44 designs produced by 21 different artists. It features a white fish and an orange fish on a bright blue background. Banners with her design have been hung on 150 street light poles in Surrey — and she has already noticed some while walking around the city.

The competition’s theme was “water is life.” Chen decided she wanted to go further than that, inspired by water’s ability to promote change and growth.

“I thought that water itself creates a community,” Chen said. “And I wanted to communicate a sense of togetherness and harmony.”

Drawing inspiration from local wildlife, the design includes a white killer whale and an orange salmon. Both, she explained, symbolize different phases of life: “The white [whale] represents purity and when there is new life, everything is really pure. Orange represents growth and aging.”

Chen added that the animals are arranged like the yin-yang symbol to represent how all forms of life are intertwined. “[Marine life] won’t be able to flourish without rich water resources,” she said, “and the same goes for us.”

The artist hopes her colourful banners will cheer up passersby, especially on windy days when the fish look like they are swimming. She added that public art is important to her, as it makes the streets more welcoming. “It feels like people actually care. [. . .] There are actually people who want to make the space look nicer. There’s an ongoing effort.”

Chen’s experience in the competition has taught her three key things: do lots of research and sketches, have a strong concept, and remember, “You won’t know until you try!”

She expressed gratitude for the recognition and $2,500 in prize money, saying that she sees this as a stepping stone in her design career.

“I finally got a grip on the edge of what I want to do,” Chen said. “It’s a firm grip, so I can continue forward.”