Mural flap shows divide in Fredericton art community, says artist

·5 min read
Laura Forrester and Penny Heather painting a mural last summer at the River Stone Recovery Centre. Forrester said she has received 'hundreds and hundreds' of messages from people who like what they did. (Submitted by Laura Forrester. - image credit)
Laura Forrester and Penny Heather painting a mural last summer at the River Stone Recovery Centre. Forrester said she has received 'hundreds and hundreds' of messages from people who like what they did. (Submitted by Laura Forrester. - image credit)

One of the artists who painted new murals in downtown Fredericton says many members of the public love them, even if some members of the city's arts and culture advisory committee are less than impressed.

Laura Forrester and fellow artist Penny Heather painted several murals last summer, including one at the River Stone Recovery Centre on King Street.

The committee made an example of it in its annual report to council last week, which called for better planning and quality control.

"I was completely blindsided," said Forrester.

The River Stone mural was a private commission, she said.

The building owner approved the design, said Forrester, and hundreds of others sent her positive feedback about it.

She described the committee presentation that singled out her work as "very problematic."

It compared the River Stone mural to a "giant, sensational mural" done in Montreal by multiple artists, over many weeks with a huge budget.

The Fredericton arts advisory committee contrasted these images in its presentation to city council under the heading: "They need to be conceived and undertaken by a professional muralist (who understands scale, perspective and composition)."
The Fredericton arts advisory committee contrasted these images in its presentation to city council under the heading: "They need to be conceived and undertaken by a professional muralist (who understands scale, perspective and composition)."(City of Fredericton)

"It's apples and oranges," she said.

"Using it as a way to talk about the skill level of the artist isn't fair. We did what we were hired to do."

Forrester said she's glad this came up because it raises an important issue.

"These are conversations that are worth having. There's a divide in the art community in Fredericton. This has exposed cracks in terms of who gets to make the decisions about where the funding goes and who gets to have access to the opportunities."

"We have to be very careful that we're not saying just because you have a smaller budget the art that you decide to put on your wall is not good enough. Then you're alienating a whole, you know, you're making it unaccessible for people who don't have huge budgets."

In general, said Forrester, the arts community in Fredericton is "huge and supportive."

But funding should be more evenly spread out, she said.

"There's a whole subculture here that goes beyond the galleries — not that the galleries aren't important. They're so important. But the art community is so much more than that and often is completely overlooked and often delegitimized."

The advisory committee's presentation listed the mural situation in the city as a "challenge."

It said "locations need planning and context."

The arts committee used this picture as an example of how murals "need to make sense with and use the inherent architecture of the building."
The arts committee used this picture as an example of how murals "need to make sense with and use the inherent architecture of the building."(City of Fredericton.)

Murals "need to be conceived and undertaken by a professional…who understands scale, perspective and composition."

"They need to make sense with and use the inherent architecture of the building."

And "less is more." The growing number of murals downtown may diminish each piece's impact.

The advisory committee has 15 members.

There are representatives from city council, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, The Playhouse, Theatre New Brunswick, The New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, the UNB Arts Centre, Craft NB, government and First Nation departments and agencies and the business community.

CBC reached out to a few of the members Monday. They declined to give interviews.

A brief statement issued Friday, in the wake of a backlash on social media, apologized for any hurt caused by the presentation.

This image was shown as an example of planning murals in the context of an area.
This image was shown as an example of planning murals in the context of an area.(City of Fredericton)

"It was not intended to question the integrity or the work of any artist," said the emailed statement.

The committee was pointing out the increase in the number of murals "in high profile public spaces and on heritage buildings."

It said murals are essentially public art and deserve some attention from council.

Committee chair Kate Rogers said she loves "the vibrancy and colour" of the murals and hopes the committee can "find many opportunities to present the work of local artists throughout the city in a way that is inclusive, celebratory, and sustainable."

This mural was recently painted on the pedway at the end of Carleton Street.
This mural was recently painted on the pedway at the end of Carleton Street.(Mike Heenan)

Forrester agreed that it's important to have policies about public art, especially when it comes to heritage buildings.

But she said the walls that she and Heather painted were previously "neglected, graffitied or run-down."

"They look better now," she said.

Forrester said the advisory committee seems to want control over who gets to paint what murals where and when.

That's "fine" for publicly owned spaces or publicly funded projects, she said.

But she said private businesses exercise their own form of quality control.

"They have a back and forth discussion before the paint hits the wall."

She suggested the committee's tastes are narrower than the public's.

"I do understand that it does become part of the framework of the city. But I think that's ok. And I think that's exciting. And I think if you look at the way the public are responding to the murals that are there already, the general public are very responsive in a very positive way."

"I don't think every corner and wall needs one, but there's definitely some space. There's lots of walls in Fredericton."

And if there turns out to be a major problem with a privately commissioned mural, she said, it's not hard to fix.

"It's just paint," she said.

"If it's offensive it can be painted over."