The Vernon Public Art Gallery is not masking its disappointment after the City of Vernon voted to send a controversial project back 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 challenges explore the unseen sides of themselves with masks they created and were photographed wearing. As the project moves toward the final phase – mural versions of the photographs – the gallery has been asked to educate the public and provide a consultation opportunity.
City council originally voted in favour of the project and committed $33,000 toward it. The photos would have been placed on city- and privately owned buildings for five years. However, after a public outcry over the final phase, which included a more-than-3,000-signature petition opposed to the project, council sent it back to the art gallery.
“We’re disappointed,” said art gallery executive director Dauna Kennedy of council’s decision. “We’ve been going full-steam ahead since they approved it previously. We’re still very confident in our project…We’re fine (with the consultation) with that so we’ll move forward with that, make sure people come in, see the exhibition, and give their comments on it.”
The Behind The Mask exhibit is on display at the gallery until July 19, but can’t be extended beyond that due to contracts with other artists coming up. People are encouraged to visit the gallery to see what the project is all about, as Kennedy says there has been a lot of misinformation put out.
“The murals are only one part of this project. It’s a much bigger project that involves a lot of moving pieces,” she said. “We are trying to set the record straight, make sure everybody is aware of the project as a whole and base any of their opinions around that.”
A mini-documentary on the project from start to finish is being produced and will be available on the gallery’s website upon completion.
While she didn’t expect heavy negative reaction from the public to the project, Kennedy said if there’s a positive to all the negativity, it’s that the project has people talking about mental health.
“There has been a lot of conversation and dialogue,” she said. “We have a classroom of students in there (Behind The Mask display) right now exploring things like identity, emotions, feelings. Those are all positive things.
“Getting the word out about mental health issues in a slightly different way makes it maybe more accessible or easier to dialogue on than it might be seeing it face-on.”
The project received $55,000 from the Canada Council of the Arts, and Kennedy says if the project goes through, it has to be done this summer to meet the funding grant deadline.
The public is encouraged to view the exhibit between June 21 and July 5 during extended gallery hours (1—6 weekdays and 11-4 Saturdays) and provide community consultation. Tablets are provided at the gallery for community members to complete a survey.