A public art project aimed at raising awareness around mental health issues is doing just that.
The City of Vernon recently approved the installation of large, mural-size photographs on area buildings and facilities.
The project, called Behind the Mask, includes 11 works that were created around an intimate story-telling process with Turning Points Collaborative Society. Participants worked with Calgary artist Katie Green, the Vernon Public Art Gallery and Turning Points’ harm reduction program coordinator through workshops where masks and characters were created. Then, at a setting of their choice, the participants were photographed wearing the masks.
It is these images that will be blown up and placed around town. They are also currently on display at the gallery.
But thousands of residents are now petitioning against the project, saying the images are unattractive and not appropriate for kids.
“They are frightening to me so I can imagine they would be scary for young children,” said Sharmay Taylor.
Taylor has created an online petition at change.org, which had more than 3,000 signatures by Monday afternoon.
“There has been neither consultation nor even a chance for the public to comment on the murals,” the petition reads. “The citizens of Vernon deserve a voice in changes like this in our city.”
Taylor also calls the murals costly, with the city providing $33,000 for them.
Since then, a petition in support of the murals has been created, with upwards of 1,000 signatures.
“They represent a missing local perspective,” said Kimberly Fuller, who started the supportive petition at change.org. “They deserve respect. They deserve to be seen.
“We believe art in Vernon should reflect the diversity of our residents. We welcome alternative stories. We welcome art that challenges us. This is the time for Vernon to take public art to the next level with projects like Behind the Mask.”
Despite the concerns from a segment of the community, Turning Points stands behind the project.
“All are local community members, and we believe the project is an opportunity for this community to celebrate arts, culture, and diversity – through a lens of people who are rarely celebrated,” said Laurie Case, Turning Points director of communication.
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