The Vernon Public Art Gallery does not hide its disappointment after the city of Vernon voted to return a controversial project to the gallery for public consultation.
Behind the Mask is a three-part public art project in which 10 local people living with mental health issues explore the unseen sides of themselves with masks they create and are photographed with. As the project nears its final stages – wall versions of the photographs – the gallery has been asked to educate the public and offer a consultation opportunity.
The City Council originally voted in favor of the project and committed $33,000 to it. The photos would have been placed on municipal and private buildings for five years. However, after a public outcry over the final phase, which included a petition with more than 3,000 signatures against the project, the council sent it back to the art gallery.
“We are disappointed,” said Dauna Kennedy, executive director of the art gallery, of the council’s decision. “We’ve been going full steam ahead since they previously approved it. We’re still very confident in our project… We’re ok with that (with the advice) so we’re going to go ahead with that, make sure people come in, see the exhibition and give their comments on it.”
The exhibition “Behind The Mask” is on view at the gallery until July 19, but cannot be extended due to contracts with other artists. People are encouraged to visit the gallery to see what the project is about, as Kennedy says a lot of misinformation has been spread.
“The murals are just a part of this project. It’s a much larger project that involves a lot of moving parts,” she said. “We’re trying to set the record straight, to make sure everyone knows the project as a whole and bases their opinion on it.”
A mini-documentary of the project from start to finish will be produced and will be available on the gallery’s website upon completion.
While she didn’t expect a strong negative public reaction to the project, Kennedy said if there’s anything positive about all the negativity, it’s that the project gets people talking about mental health.
“There were a lot of conversations and dialogues,” she said. “We have a classroom right now there with students (Behind The Mask Display) exploring things like identity, emotions and feelings. Those are all positive things.
“Spreading the word about mental health issues in a slightly different way might make it more accessible or easier to talk about than seeing it face to face.”
The project received $55,000 from the Canada Council of the Arts, and Kennedy says if the project goes through, it must be done this summer to meet the funding deadline.
The public is encouraged to view the exhibition between June 21 and July 5 during the gallery’s extended hours (1-6 weekdays and 11-4 Saturdays) and to advise the community. Tablets are provided in the gallery for community members to fill out a survey.
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