New public art project opens conversation on mental health

Wheels of Change project in downtown Chilliwack meant to raise awareness about what it means to struggle with mental health issues.

Sylvie Roussel-Janssens in front of her public art installation

Sylvie Roussel-Janssens in front of her public art installation

It’s public art with purpose.

Wheels of Change, now installed on the fence at the downtown community gardens, is up just in time for national Mental Health Week May 4-9.

The colourful and collaborative project is meant to raise awareness about what it means to struggle with mental health issues.

“For me it’s about starting the conversation,” said artist Sylvie Roussel-Janssen.

As she was installing the colourful flowers on the fence this week, several people walked up to her and wanted to talk about it.

“An endless number of people were eager to talk,” she said.

The temporary installation was approved by city council, and supported in spirit by Ruth & Naomi’s Mission.

Five members of the Chilliwack Cheamview Clubhouse helped out with Wheels of Change by burning fabric holes into the design and adding health-related words onto the flowers. The Clubhouse is part of the Creative Centre Society, which provides habilitation and recovery based programs in Chilliwack to support people who live with persistent and severe mental illness.

“Sylvie’s piece exemplifies what public art should do: provides beautification, but with a specific purpose, in this case raising awareness about mental health,” said Coun. Sam Waddington, the city councillor who chairs the Public Art Advisory Committee.

It’s the second public art project in town since the committee was struck last year to oversee the metal art installation in front of the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, for CADREB’s 50th anniversary.

“Good public art should actually change the consciousness of a community, and I’m very excited to see what this can do to transform Chilliwack,” he said.

It took months to get all the necessary approvals, but Roussels-Janssen is thrilled to see it come to fruition.

“I’m really happy with what it looks like, and optimistic about the impact,” she said.

Public art can run the gamut from functional to purely esthetic, and doesn’t have to thoughtlessly plopped down.

“It could be a beautiful bike rack, a painted curb or a sidewalk with a beautiful mosaic,” said the artist.

Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week is an annual event that takes place during the first week in May to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health. See for more.

Chilliwack artist Sylvie Roussel-Janssens has a well established sculptural art practice ranging from small objects to large installations, on themes like history and the environment. She has exhibited across B.C and the rest of Canada. See more at

The public art committee is hard at work drafting a list of potential locations on city-owned property for the future, as well an inventory of visual artists.

“We’re striving to make the creation of public art an easier process,” Waddington said. “And if there’s one thing as committee we’re hoping to do is with every piece, it is to create a thirst for more. We haven’t always had a history of public art in Chilliwack, but we’re going to create it.

“I think we’ve turned a corner now.”