The curious case of the UBC Spaces Project stairwell art

Earlier this month, a friend of mine spotted a curiosity in the Nest: in the stairwell, just next to the elevators near Iwana Taco and The Blue Chip cafe were a two pieces of art, seemingly unrelated to one another apart from their proximity.

The first, half a flight above the Nest’s lower level, is a drawing of some circular, bandana-donning creature staring intently at a computer set-up. In the top-right corner of the illustration are the words “UBC Spaces Project”, and in the top left, inside the frame, the captions “A New Frame” in pen, followed by “For a New Year 2019” in pencil.

The second work, up another half flight, is a painting of a wooded meadow, a very BC-esque scene with a handful of mountain peaks in the background. The painting extends up onto the frame itself, with no signs of text to be found.

What is (or was) this mysterious UBC Spaces Project? Who made these hidden artworks? Who put them here? And, given that I had never actually taken these stairs before, how long have these pieces even been here?

After an “investigative” process that involved scanning through various social media, AMS administrative and club info, and any hints I could glean from the artworks themselves, I was eventually able to find the founding member of the now-dormant project, Veronika Bylicki.

A 2017 UBC graduate, Bylicki founded the UBC Spaces Project in early 2016 when she noticed an interest among students to get involved in campus planning and design.

“The idea was to bring together a group of students that could work with campus and community planning, but also have kind of that arm’s length away … so that there was a little bit of flexibility to do really creative, out-of-the-box projects.”

Short-lived as it was, the project was received with open arms by the AMS. With the then-recent opening of the Nest in June of 2015, Bylicki says that the AMS was looking for exactly the kind of group to involve students in breathing life into the new student space.

As a gathering of club regulars developed, there proved to be no shortage of ideas — which came to varying degrees of fruition — on how to spruce up the Nest, such as moss graffiti, student lounge re-designs and student-created art.

But as productively as the project went during the spring term, it was “the beauty and the challenge of student life” which brought about the dormancy of the club: as Bylicki left during the summer for co-op, other regulars became busy and were unable to continue the club.

“I wish I had done some succession planning as something to help the future students continue it on, because there’s definitely that interest but often it just takes someone to initiate it and bring everyone in the same room.”

As for the artworks, Bylicki was able to confirm that the creator of the drawings in the stairwell was a UBC Spaces Project regular.

“I kind of completely forgot [the paintings] existed, so it’s funny that they’re still up. And it’s amazing to see that people are maybe still interested in taking it on and doing it themselves,” says Bylicki. “And that was kind of the idea … just take ownership and feel like they can put up whatever they wanna put up.”

As for the person who added the “New Frame” or “For a New Year 2019” captions, that remains a mystery. But Bylicki hopes that anyone who is interested in the project can find some way to get involved.

“I hope that there’s enough opportunities that all the students that want to be a part of that on campus have those opportunities. And if not, [there’s the] UBC Spaces project!”

For now, it’s difficult to gauge what interest there is in re-instating the project: a new, brief caption to an already existing artwork isn’t a lot to go off of. But perhaps the end of a school club or project doesn’t have to mean the end of an objective.

Just before graduating, Bylicki and a friend founded CityHive, which focuses on getting youth involved matters of city planning and decision-making. With the organization still running strong, Bylicki has effectively been able to bring the project of youth engagement to the wider scale of Vancouver itself.

So maybe there’s something else to be said about the lasting hints of UBC’s dormant clubs: for every picture, poster or other evidence of a club no longer present, there may lie a story of a student trying something new. And who’s to say they’re not still trying?