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Community voices transformed into colourful art in New West

Friction Ridge: An art installation that turns messages into a light show at New Westminster City Hall

Hundreds of people have interacted with a colourful public art installation on the front of New Westminster City Hall.

In October, a six-month interactive LED artwork was installed on the façade of city hall. Friction Ridge, created by Emilie Crewe, allows the public to communicate with the artwork – with their messages being translated into cascading colours in real time.

“We have had a lot of really positive response,” said Todd Ayotte, the city’s manager of community arts and theatre. “And the artist has noted that hundreds of people have interacted with it through text messages since was installed.”

Quyen Hoang, the city’s public and community art coordinator, said the installation will remain at city hall though April 2024.

“Temporary public art is a great way to engage with public spaces and help them from becoming static,” she said in an email to the Record. “The non-permanency of the work can also bring possibilities for experimentation.”

Community members can send a message to the Friction Ridge installation via

Friction Ridge by Emilie Crewe aims to connect the local community with their government officials through a real-time messaging system connected to LED light strips,” said a City of New Westminster news release. “The artwork intends to honour individuality and bring awareness to the strength and tenacity of the people’s voice by translating messages sent by members of the public into cascading colours on the installation.”

Friction Ridge is a little different from some of the previous public art installations seen in New Westminster – it’s an artist-initiated public art project.

“With this project, we wanted to invite artists to tell us where public art could be installed instead of it being predetermined for them,” Hoang explained.

Instead of predetermining a site for public art, the city pursued a more grassroots approach that supports artist-led initiatives and experimentation.

In late 2021, the city issued a call to artists; it later shortlisted three artists, who were invited to propose public artworks for city-owned spaces.  Artists were encouraged to look at places where people gather and to consider the impacts of the pandemic on how people meet, experience the world or relate to each other, said the city’s news release.

A selection panel awarded the opportunity to North Vancouver-based artist, Emilie Crewe, who proposed an interactive LED installation on the façade of city hall. 

“Composed to mimic the pattern of fingerprints, the project intends to honour individuality while also bringing awareness to the strength and tenacity of the peoples’ voice,” said Crewe in an artist’s statement. “The title of the artwork references the thick layer of skin on our fingertips called the ‘friction ridge’, while also signifying the location of the building atop a literal ridge, as well as city hall being a place of ‘friction’, where town hall meetings, bills and bylaws come to pass. Friction Ridge is meant to bridge the gap between city officials and the public, forging a place for accountability, prospect, and possibility."

Crewe’s works are exhibited internationally in galleries, museums, artist-run centres, experimental film/video festivals, and as public art.

The city’s website includes a registry of existing (and some past) public art pieces in New West.