Photo: Jon Manchester
The artist behind Vernon’s famous historic murals has sparked debate over new mask murals planned for the center of town.
The 11 murals approved by the city council and pitched by the Vernon Public Art Gallery would be part of a mental health project in which participants created their own masks and then photographed them in various settings that would become the basis for the murals.
However, the images met with public reaction and were ridiculed as “scary clown masks” that are “disturbing” and could startle young children.
Their endorsement without public input has also been criticized by Coun. Scott Anderson and others, including Michelle Loughery – the artist behind Vernon’s historic murals.
Given the lengthy — and public — approval process of the current murals in the 1990s, Anderson said, “This is what engaging citizens and securing community buy-in looks like,” in a post on his Facebook page.
Loughery says she was “shocked” to see the new project approved “when not everyone had been brought to the table”.
She says she is not against the content or the work of the artist, but that without consultation and a coordinated plan for public art in the city we will “end up in a mess”.
“It shows the division in our community,” she said.
There are online dueling petitions active, both for and against the ‘Behind the Mask’ murals.
And when it comes to public opinion, the project’s opponents are in the majority.
On Monday afternoon, a change.org petition against the new murals had 3,045 signatures. The petition in favor of them had 949.
Loughery is proposing to hit back a Vernon mural commission, something she’s been pushing for over the past year, so the city’s current murals can be properly maintained.
“We need to rethink the process of creating new public art in Vernon,” she said.
Loughery says murals aren’t just about art, they can also be an economic engine.
“I call it muralestate,” she said. “Art should make a social and economic difference.”
She commented on Facebook: “Vernon is an incredible city and deserves a plan, not art put down without a process and maintenance plan. It’s not a second mural project. It’s an ongoing process that needs to fuse together. And if your ice cream is a cake which is not cooked properly will melt.
“Community art is building infrastructure, it’s crime prevention, it’s ambassadorial work.
“The art is not the question. But the work that has to be done to have new incredible art has to have a process, maintenance and be able to create a place for artists to create in that environment.”
Anderson added: “I’m certainly not in favor of hitting a new commission every time we want to change something, but we should at least show our citizens how we plan to change their lives before we plow on.
Asking the residents of Vernon to give us feedback so that we at least know what they think is not an unreasonable request.”