Plans to install new murals in Vernon, B.C., have triggered an intense public debate and duelling petitions both for and against the project.
The 11 large-scale photographs from a series called “Behind the Mask” by Calgary artist Katie Green are set to be installed on public and private buildings around Vernon’s downtown this summer.
The art installation, meant to start conversations about mental health, has already been approved by city council, but some are urging officials to reconsider.
More than 3,000 people have signed a petition opposing the murals and asking for public consultation to be done on the project.
Vernon resident Patrick Vance is among those who signed the petition calling for more consultation on the murals.
He is concerned about the lack of public input and the involvement of a non-local artist in the project.
“We could have used a lot of local artist talent to drive this rather than outsourcing our story to somebody from another province,” said Vance.
Meanwhile, another petition supporting the murals has more than 1,000 signatures.
“I learned about the project and I thought it was fabulous: really brave local residents speaking their truth about mental health. So I just wanted them to know there are people here that support public art,” said Kimberly Fuller, who started a petition supporting the murals.
The mural photographs started with Calgary artist Katie Green facilitating workshops with local participants.
In the workshops, they created masked characters to express messages about feelings and identity.
The local residents were photographed in the masks to create the final images.
“I don’t want to denigrate anyone’s experience or challenge that helped inspire these works, because their stories are as real as anybody else’s, but it was only 10 people who participated in the workshops that were lead by the artist from Calgary,” Vance said.
“I don’t feel that that’s representative. I don’t feel that these murals represent Vernon’s story.”
Vance would rather see the money spent on the project support local artists.
“We should have people whose stories are informed by their experience here who will also create the art because there is such amazing talent in our area,” Vance said.
However, Fuller argues Vernon should welcome all kinds of art regardless of whether the artist is local.
“I don’t think people should be saying no to art or no to people from away. Let’s bring on more artists, more work, more critical work that challenges us and makes us think. This is all positive,” Fuller said.
“The people that are in the project are actually local residents so there is a lot of misinformation about that. The art facilitator is from away but I think that that is really interesting that people are against work from people from away.”
In a statement, the artist behind the work, said she thinks it is great the murals are generating so much discussion.
“These images will evoke all sorts of subjective reactions, some will feel their own discomfort when looking at them while others will think they are fantastically alluring and imaginative. And both are okay! Public art is wonderful when it starts conversation and explores the breadth of our emotional experience,” Green wrote.
“My hope is that individuals will get curious about their own subjective reactions, to explore the project deeper and to learn more about the stories of each participant behind the mask. In doing so, I am sure everyone will not only learn more about individuals in the Vernon community, but they will learn a little bit more about themselves in the process.”
While critics are calling for Vernon city council to reconsider, the planned murals have already been approved and are scheduled to be installed this summer and displayed for five years.
The City of Vernon has agreed to directly contribute $33,000 to the project to pay for the installation of the murals that are being displayed on city buildings.
Other funding includes $55,500 from the Canada Council for the Arts and $10,000 from the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee Public Art Fund.
The project is being spearheaded by the Vernon Public Art Gallery.
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