Vernon council voted unanimously against allowing the Vernon Art Gallery’s Behind The Mask project to be placed outside on city-owned or private buildings. (File photo)

Vernon council voted unanimously against allowing the Vernon Art Gallery’s Behind The Mask project to be placed outside on city-owned or private buildings. (File photo)

Vernon mask project hung out to dry

City vetos VPAG from placing Behind The Mask project on city-owned or private buildings

Hang it in the art gallery. Not on local buildings, no matter who owns them.

After lengthy discussion at its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 6, Vernon council unanimously decided to not approve installation of the Vernon Public Art Gallery’s controversial Behind The Mask project on city-owned or private buildings.

The motion also means city funding of up to $33,000 for the project would not be provided, and the art gallery can choose to display the work within the gallery.

The move came after council first defeated a motion with no seconder to discuss the art gallery’s proposal for a reduction of murals from 11 to eight, to be placed on six public and privately owned buildings within the city.

When the motion came up that council take no further action with the project, Coun. Kelly Fehr argued to look at a staff alternative that council approve the use and approve putting the murals up on city-owned property.

“The public voted for years ago to move art forward,” said Fehr, referring to the successful referendum to approve borrowing money to build a new cultural centre in downtown Vernon that would house a new art gallery and museum, though ground has yet to be broken on it.

“The art gallery has an opportunity to apply for ongoing funding, possibly operational funding, dependent on this project going forward.”

Fehr’s motion to approve the alternative was defeated.

Kari Gares, Scott Anderson and Akbal Mund were among councillors who spoke to the sheer volume of opposition from the public to the proposed project, whether it was on social media, in a petition, or in emails and calls to council.

Mund said he spoke with a number of people who didn’t write anything but were vehemently opposed to the project. Some, he said, were big supporters of the art gallery.

“I talked to people about why they don’t want the murals and there was a wide number of people who were against them,” he said. “I’m taking everything into consideration in making my decision.”

Gallery staff and board made a passionate plea to Vernon council in July, asking that it go ahead as presented and, as board president Andrew Powell pointed out, was approved twice by council, including as late as May 2022.

However, due to public outcry, council revisited the motion they passed May 30 supporting the request for funding for the project. The city had agreed to commit $33,000 to the project, to go along with $55,000 the gallery received through grants.

Behind The Mask is a project, conceived by Calgary artist Katie Green, who worked with the Vernon gallery’s engagement curator and the harm reduction program coordinator at Turning Points Collaborative Society to lead participants through a series of workshops where masks and characters were created through an intimate story-telling process.

Participants were then photographed wearing their masks in a setting of their choosing, and it’s those photographs that the gallery was going to place on walls around the city.

The gallery conducted a public opinion survey at the gallery in regards to the project and said a majority were in favour.

Gares and Anderson said they were in favour of the project as it supports mental health, but the volume of opposition led them to vote against it.

“Our job is to do what the public wants,” said Anderson. “And the public clearly does not want these murals.”

READ MORE: Vernon council sends mask project back to art gallery

READ MORE: ‘Wearing a mask is a big part of how I feel:’ Vernon students debate art



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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