Controversial Vernon, B.C. mural project sent back for public consultation | Globalnews.ca

There has been yet another twist in Vernon B.C.’s mural saga.

After at first approving the public art project proposed by the Vernon Public Art Gallery, Vernon city council has now put the project on hold pending public consultation.

The move comes after intense public debate and petitions both for and against the artwork.

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The art gallery’s executive director, Dauna Kennedy, said the council’s decision “may be a little bit disappointing” but the gallery is still committed to moving forward with the project.

The gallery is now figuring out how it will hold public consultations on its proposed new mural project.

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“This is just another step that they want to see. We are confident in this project and so, of course, we will take that feedback and we will work with that and we will continue to push the project forward,” said Kennedy.

More than 3,600 people have signed an online petition against the art titled “Say no to Vernon[‘s] ‘scary’ new murals.” One of the major criticisms is the lack of public consultation.

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A pro-mural counter-petition has garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

Critics of the project are happy residents will now have an opportunity to give feedback.

“I think it is a win for everyone involved. I know that both sides may not see it that way but it is extremely encouraging to know that council took note that there is a lot of public feedback to be heard and that for something of this magnitude and scope the proper path forward was to consult the public,” said Patrick Vance who signed the petition against the murals.

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The mural series titled Behind the Mask is meant to generate discussion about mental health.

In workshops, local participants created masked characters with messages about feelings and identity. They were then photographed in the masks to create the final images.

“I wanted it to show that no matter what state the world was in that people should come together and help one another, appreciate one another because you never know when you are going to be by yourself period,” said participant Cheryl Jackson, of the character and image she helped create.

“We worked really hard on this…All of us we’re made to explore what we are and where we want to go in life so it is really important to us that something happens with it.”

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For Jackson, the public comments that the mural images are scary have been difficult to take.

“It didn’t really come across as being something scary when I did it. I was really kind of hurt when I heard that the public was really upset about it. I actually cried when I read the first article and I couldn’t read the rest of them,” Jackson said.

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The photographs and masks are already on display at the art gallery. The proposed mural aspect of the project would involve installing large-scale versions of the 11 photos on private and public buildings in Vernon’s downtown. The original idea was to keep the murals up for at least five years.

For Vernon councillor Akbal Mund, sending the project back for public feedback was about being responsive to constituents.

“This is not about the people who actually were behind the masks. It is more about doing the right thing for the majority of our community and that’s what elected officials do they listen to the community,” said Mund.

Mund is suggesting the art gallery look at scaling down the project.

“Maybe instead of putting 11 murals all up at the same time maybe go half and so the general public won’t see it around every corner that they have to walk and drive. Narrow the scope a bit and see what the reaction is,” said Mund.

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Meanwhile, Vance believes Vernon should do a different mural project on the theme of mental health.

“I don’t think that this particular project really took into account all the factors around that, namely the repetitive imagery used and the single format. I think with all of the local artists that could have been used there could have been many different interpretations…of these messages,” said Vance.

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“I would love to see a project of this type go forward including perhaps one of these images and then nine different images that are selected through workshops or just public artist input.”

The art gallery says it still hopes to install the murals this summer and is encouraging Vernon residents to visit the art gallery and see the pictures for themselves.

“Everybody that we have been seeing coming through has left with a different opinion of this project and I think if you want to do your due diligence come in and see it for yourself before you make any kind of decision on it,” said Kennedy.

The final decision on the project will be up to city council.

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