Recently there’s been a lot of talk concerning the quality of murals in Fredericton. Germaine Pataki-Thériault is the director of Gallery 78, as well as a member of the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. In her presentation on behalf of the committee to the Regular City Council Meeting on March 8, she included a slide comparing a mural in Montréal with one in downtown Fredericton.
The Fredericton mural was painted by Laura Forrester and Penny Heather at the River Stone Recovery Centre on King Street last summer, and the Montréal mural was done by multiple artists over many weeks with a huge budget. In the council meeting the advisory committee called for better planning and quality control of the murals around the city.
“[Murals] need to be conceived and undertaken by a professional muralist who understands scale, perspective, and composition,” said Pataki-Thériault. “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.”
A lot of people in the community had a problem with the committee’s use of examples of local art in its presentation as they felt that it was an attempt to disparage local artists.
“The presentation made to the council was problematic on several levels,” noted Laura Forrester. “I’ve been a professional artist for about five years. I am a multidisciplinary painter, so I do lots of different things: live event painting, commissions, portraits, murals, workshops, etc.”
She said that she was most disappointed that Heather and herself were not consulted prior to the council meeting. She thinks that the proposed policies are completely warranted for pieces that are city commissioned or are on city property, but the city should not have control over what a building owner chooses for art on their own property, or what artist gets to do it.
“The comparison was completely unfair because the piece that they were referring to was a privately commissioned piece by the building owner ― he presented us with a concept idea and a budget. With all of our work, we do a full color digital concept that goes back and forth with the client until they love it. There is a lot of behind the scenes work and planning before any paint hits the wall.”
Nikki Thériault, daughter of the Gallery 78 owner, confirmed that Germaine has since reached out and apologised to Forrester, and they discovered a “shared commitment to advancing the arts in Fredericton.”
She said the media took a presentation to City Council out of context, and people reacted to Gallery 78 and Germaine, even though the presentation was made on behalf of the committee. She says that the gallery had to deal with some nasty and hostile backlash, which she felt was misdirected.
“Gallery 78 has prided itself on working with the larger artistic community and has been supportive of local artists and initiatives for years – decades in fact, we’ll be 45 this fall!”
The committee issued an apology on March 12 in the wake of a backlash on social media, saying, “The report was not intended to call into question the integrity or the work of any artist and we apologise it was taken in that context.”
“We have to be careful not to discriminate between art... whether it’s public or private, or based on how expensive it is. All art is valid and has a place in the art community," Forrester concluded.