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Chilliwack Mural Festival comes alive in the downtown core

‘Murals offer a safe way for people to enjoy socially distanced artwork,’ says organizer
A mural by Oksana Gaidasheva in an alley off Mill Street in downtown Chilliwack on Aug. 13, 2020, part of the Chilliwack Mural Festival. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Eight new murals were approved by council for the first ever Chilliwack Mural Festival underway in downtown Chilliwack.

But before the motion to approve was carried at city hall, several questions arose about the accounting, location, and paper trail for the new mural festival.

In the end city council voted to approve the mural renderings and the city’s share of the costs.

“I believe we can put Chilliwack on the map, and draw the same tourism dollars that Chemainus and Nelson have captured with their Mural Festivals,” Amber Price, manager of the Chilliwack Mural Festival, wrote in her proposal to the public art advisory committee.

“My goal is to bring 40 murals to the downtown core over the next several years.”

The advisory committee met July 27, reviewed the designs and concept, and agreed to bring it forward to council. The budget for the mural festival is $22,365.98, raised mostly from donations, and the City of Chilliwack is chipping in $3,856.

“Murals offer a safe way for people to enjoy socially distanced artwork during Covid-19,” Price wrote in the proposal document. “Studies show that public art lowers property crime and raises civic pride. By drawing people into the Downtown Core to view public art, we invite them to pass by businesses that they may not have previously discovered.”

The murals will spark conversations, inspire people to take selfies or videos in front of the vibrant artworks thereby bringing more viewers downtown.

But Coun. Bud Mercer and Mayor Ken Popove raised some questions before the murals were approved.

Coun. Mercer’s concern was around the “fiduciary responsibilities” of the city.

“Is it normal for us to give a grant to a private citizen to disburse the payments from a grant? I’m just confused as to the mechanics of that,” Mercer asked at the Aug. 4 meeting.

It’s not typical but the money is coming out of the public art advisory committee budget and not the general coffers of the city, Coun. Sue Knott, chair of the committee, explained.

“We would normally pay the artists directly,” Knott said.

The festival was initially put on hold due to COVID-19, and then came together very quickly in recent weeks to coincide the mural artists’ schedules and with the Walk and Shop event downtown. Aug. 20 to Aug. 22.

The mural festival’s partners include the Chilliwack Community Arts Council, Tourism Chilliwack and the Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network.

Coun. Knott said the committee “loved the artworks” and recognized the many benefits the festival would bring to the downtown core.

Regardless of the vote that would be taken by council, Knott thanked (Manager of Recreation Services) Carol Marleau, who “pulled out all the stops” to bring it all together and get the proposal onto the Aug. 4 council meeting agenda.

Coun. Jeff Shields asked if the organizers had considered creating a non-profit entity to handle the paper trail, and said he’d have no issue with it if the artists were paid directly, and if a paper trail was created.

Coun. Harv Westeringh, committee vice chair, stated that for the City of Chilliwack to recognized as a sponsor for the event the contribution constitutes “a good bang” for council’s buck, given the event will bring some “buzz and flair” to the downtown.

“I hear the concerns being raised but I think we have to consider that these are unprecedented times to be holding an event,” Coun. Lum stated.

Council was going to get “huge bang for our buck” from the mural festival, Lum said, in a part of town that could “use some brightening up.”

It wouldn’t be out of line extending “a bit of grace” to the applicant, he said, and staff could ensure things stay accountable.

“I think it’s a wise decision that will brighten up a lot of people’s lives,” Lum said about idea of a mural festival.

Mayor Ken Popove said he was struggling with location of all the murals being downtown, near the organizer’s business and including it, and the payment structure for artists going through a private endeavour.

“It’s just the precedent we could set,” Popove added, saying he was not in favour of the direction it was taking.

Marleau explained the city had done something similar paying out contractors for a Canada Day event in the past, and if there was concern about the paper trail, they could pay the artists directly.

“If there is a way of tracking the invoices, I’m not against this,” Coun. Mercer said.

Coun. Chris Kloot agreed that eight murals in the downtown would add some “vibrant flair” to some of the more challenged areas downtown, and pledged his support if they could achieve the paper trail and accounting.

Chris Crosman, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer, reassured council they would work with the finance department to ensure everything was done properly.

In the end, the motion to approve the selected mural renderings and the city cost of $3856 was approved, with only Mayor Popove voting against.

READ MORE: Murals for local schools on the rise

READ MORE: Tale of a mural restoration by many

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A mural entitled Inez underway by Kevin Ledo on Victoria Street in downtown Chilliwack, part of the Chilliwack Mural Festival, on Aug. 13, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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