City Arts Report Sparks Controversy

Category: community 826

A report by Fredericton’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee calls for stronger oversight in the planning and approval process for public art. 

Matt Carter
The committee’s decision to use examples of local art in its presentation left many feeling the move was an attempt to denigrate local artists. The issue was magnified by a Brunswick News article that featured the now famous Bridgestone mural (above) painted by Laura Forrester and Penny Heather on Westmoreland Street, despite its absence from the committee’s presentation.

A recent report by the City of Fredericton’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee has got a lot of people talking. Presented by Germaine Pataki-Theriault on behalf of the committee at the Regular City Council Meeting on March 8, the report was intended to address three topics: art during COVID, the role of the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee and current arts and culture challenges – a lot of important issues to squeeze into a 10 minute presentation. The presentation was the committee’s first since September 2019 and highlighted the efforts of festivals and residencies in supporting local artists. The slides from the March 8 presentation can be viewed here. 

While much of the report focused on the many positive outcomes to transpire over an otherwise dismal year including the successful delivery of the Flourish Festival, outdoor art installations and unique programming from both Connexion ARC and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery as well as the city’s second outdoor Artist in Residence series and further positive developments surrounding the future of the Fredericton Playhouse, a March 11 article published by Brunswick News focused solely on one minor aspect of the report calling for stronger oversight in the planning and approval process for future mural installations. 

The article ignited a flurry of comments on social media and brought up the age old question: What constitutes ‘good’ art?

“All of our murals were commissioned either by the city, a festival or a private business,” said Laura Forrester, who painted a number of murals over the past summer with her sister Penny Heather. “There are weeks of behind the scenes prep before paint goes on the walls, including digital color concepts that are shared back and forth until the work meets the vision of the client. 

“We are professional artists with years of experience and education in the arts. We use only the highest quality materials and execute the murals very professionally,” she said.

In presenting the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee’s report, Pataki-Theriault shared visual examples of existing Fredericton mural art alongside work from other cities to support the committee’s suggestion that a juried selection process should be put in place.

“We need to be strategic,” said Pataki-Theriault in her presentation on behalf of the committee. “We have limited available walls in downtown. We definitely do not want to be painting our heritage brick. Downtown Fredericton Inc. and our committee agree that we need a vetted selection process to get the best results for our high-profile public spaces.”

The committee’s decision to use local examples in its presentation left many feeling the move was an attempt to denigrate local artists. The issue was magnified by the Brunswick News article that featured the now famous Bridgestone mural on Westmoreland Street despite its absence from the committee’s presentation. 

I certainly never used that mural as an example,” said Pataki-Theriault. “It is one of the best murals we have downtown. 

“What I had tried to say in the entirety of my presentation on behalf of the committee was that we need to be intentional when putting murals in our beautiful downtown. Everything has its place. I love tagged and layered graffiti art that they have in strategic areas of big cities. They are very cool. And I referenced those and had pictures of them in my presentation. I also said that the one on Scandimodern is a great painting, but it would have been even better had they used the entire wall and incorporated the architectural features and the windows.”

A mural by Midas Well Creations on Carleton Street where the home decor shop Scandimodern is located.

Public art policies governing the installation of murals are common in most larger centres. A 2008 report on the Halifax Regional Municipality’s Public Art Policy states, “Art can be many things to many people. There are varying definitions, but underlying most is an emphasis on the quality of product and the importance of the role of professional artists in its creation. Community art, which is a form of public art, also emphasizes the importance of the professional artist, however it places more focus on the community involvement in the process through which art is created.”

Last year, Fredericton artist Dawn Steeves was commissioned to paint a mural outside The Cap as part of her involvement with the Flourish Festival and she believes the committee’s recommendations have been taken out of context.

“I believe that we shouldn’t be fighting like this,” said Steeves. “The committee means well and I’m sure many of us agree with their sentiment. We really don’t need to fill the walls with art just for the sake of art. I would like to continue by encouraging artists of every stripe and level of art education to get out and make art and put it in as many places as you are brave enough to put it. Apply to attend mural festivals. Follow mural artists on Instagram. Make it political. Make it mean something. I would love to see powerful messages about what is happening here in NB. But that’s just me.”

Fredericton’s Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee was created in 2013 to advise the City Council and make recommendations on matters affecting arts and cultural development within the municipality. A full list of current members is available on the City of Fredericton website. 

Cover photo is a cropped excerpt of a larger piece by Fredericton artist Dawn Steeves.

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