The Visible City: Vancouver's Neon Stories

Creator(s): Museum of Vancouver

The Visible City: Vancouver's Neon Stories is an exploration of the city's historical, geographic, visual, and material evolution. By documenting the rise, fall, and resurrection of neon in Vancouver, we illuminate the history, impact and stories behind the signs. Just 50 years ago, Vancouver's downtown streets were awash with neon. Today, these seemingly indelible fixtures have all but disappeared. In October 2011, to help preserve neon's legacy, the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) unveiled a semi-permanent installation of neon signs called Neon Vancouver / Ugly Vancouver. Created from the MOV's 22 piece collection, this exhibition explores the significance neon plays in our past, present and future. The beauty of neon is its prevalence as a public art form; something Vancouverites and visitors to Vancouver from all walks of life can see. So to help extend neon stories beyond the Museum of Vancouver's walls, we created The Visible City. Neon's endurance is most apparent in the recent revival and re-installation of refurbished and new signs in Gastown, Chinatown, and the Granville entertainment district. Though it's unlikely that the MOV's collection of signs will be re-installed in the city streets, their stories can be re-illuminated and experienced through this virtual exhibit. The virtual exhibit and mobile application offer a way to not just engage with the visual memory of these neon landmarks, but also to delve into their architectural and socio-cultural significance. Through these historical signs, we can explore very modern themes such as gentrification, commercial evolution, and preservation of the natural city. We hope that audiences will not only gain an appreciation for neon, but also comment on, share impressions about, and contribute to the narrative.

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