CRP has been following the controversy in Duncan closely as you can see from past articles. Duncan has become the victim of dull bureaucracy overwhelming visionary creativity. Duncan officials have decided to paint over a mural called “community” despite receiving a petition signed by 1,200 people for the mural to stay up. The logic behind the destruction was that property owner did not get a permit from the city prior to beginning the mural. One would think that the swell of support from the Community that the mural refers to would allow the city to make an exception or allow for a retroactive permit. Yet city officials, angered by the property owner’s “defiance” by not getting the permit decided to enforce the process over the art. So bureaucratic non-logic triumphs over a boon for the neighborhood. City council members appeared on the defensive, claiming that they don’t make the rules, they just enforce them. However, in an apparent contradictory statement, one councilperson said “there’s a way to change but this is not it.” What more could the council want then a petition from 1,200 people?
The city did not have to pay for the mural and it brightened an otherwise dull wall, which will now return to a prime target for vandalism. If the property owner wants another mural, again out of her own pocket, she will also have to purchase a permit and go through the permit process, just to see fresh artwork on her property again. Of course, nothing would be more discouraging for artwork at the cafe, or in Duncan in general. What artist wants to be put through so many ringers just to create new works. In short, public art in Duncan is headed for a screeching halt.
A similar situation happened in Richmond CA over a year ago, when a group of youth had a legal mural destroyed by the city abatement workers. In Richmond, the city’s policy was overt; take down any artwork that could be labelled “graffiti.” This policy was prejudicial against a specific aesthetic and was applied equally to legal and unsanctioned work. Numerous business saw their commissioned murals destroyed when the abatement workers labelled their work graffiti. The destruction of the “Gompers” mural, named for the school where the students were from, exposed the fact that Richmond had no mural policy at all. At first, the city threatened a policy similar to Duncan’s forcing the community to go through a paid permit process to create new works on their property. Fortunately, the Task Force has begun to take CRP’s recommendations to heart and is looking to create a mural protection policy that focuses on preventing the unnecessary destruction of public art.
It appears that Duncan is going the opposite direction. The bottom of the article refers to the creation of a”jury” to help with artistic decisions in the future. Once again, public art is being sentenced to death by committee. Now, when someone wants to create new public art, the piece will go on trial before a jury. If the jury objects, the piece will be forced to be modified to accommodate their palette or the permit will simply be denied. Censorship and hoops are not how to create or support public art.
In short, if you are looking for good artwork or even an open mind, it sounds like Duncan, Canada is not be the place to go.
The mural is coming down. Despite a strident call for a flip flop on their recent committee of the whole recommendation and more thoughtful urgings to take a quiet second look, Duncan city council voted Oct. 15 against keeping the controversial mural painted on a wall beside the Phoenix Motor Inn.
Proponent Nicolette Genier, who had filled about half the council chamber seats with supporters, gave an impassioned address, calling on council to accept that “change is inevitable”.
She said she had collected 1,200 signatures on a petition but was “not there to embarrass council” if the apparent decision could still be reconsidered but she did tell council not to consider themselves critics when it came to such work.
“Art is not your specialty,” she said. “If this mural is removed, it’s a ghastly precedent.”
During her presentation, the mayor and council listened silently.
Judy Stafford of Cowichan Green Community, whose group is moving into what will be called the Phoenix Centre, said she had gone on a fact-finding mission around Duncan because her group was being “linked in ways we didn’t anticipate,” to an issue that was “polarizing the community”.
A well-intentioned idea had now turned into a situation where a lot of people are feeling caught in the middle, Stafford said, calling on council to pause and “take time for voices to be heard” before finding solutions.
Coun. Michelle Staples attempted to get the mural-killing motion sent back for more discussion but her colleagues were not willing to do that.
Coun. Sharon Jackson then led the debate for denying further life to the illegal painting by saying she thought the nature of the back-and-forth in letters and the media has killed “any chance there ever was to have a civil conversation” about the issue.
“Members of council and city staff have been vilified,” she continued, pointing out that Duncan officials are all there to enforce the bylaws which are based on extensive discussion with the community and a lot of hard work in building a community plan.
“We can make no exceptions. There’s a way to change but this is not it.”
Genier began interrupting the meeting, trying to break in while councillors gave comments. When told to be quiet and listen or leave, she stood up, carrying her box of documents with her, stopping twice at the door to shout at councillors before finally exiting council chambers.
Some of her followers left but some remained and attempted once or twice to interject comments into the meeting but were unsuccessful.
Coun. Michelle Bell took strong exception to any idea that Duncan council’s decision was “personal”; in fact bylaws were there to remove any personal element in enforcement, she said.
Genier was aware of what needed to be done and chose not to follow procedure.
“She boasted about it,” Bell said.
She took particular exception to a suggestion that threats of funding cuts had been made; there are clear processes around handing out grant money that had to be followed, she said.
An emotional Bell said that she believed in compromise and consensus but concluded, “I will only engage in respectful dialogue.”
A separate policy, calling for a jury to help with artistic decisions also went ahead.