Stanley Park mural project raises censorship question

Cover story published in 24 Hours Vancouver | October 31, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+

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A city-funded “participatory mural” project for the Stanley Park Ecology Society has come to a standstill after the commissioned artist said she was told to remove words and images deemed inappropriate for the side of Nature House.

Artist Melanie Schambach she said the project, coinciding with the park’s 125th anniversary, was meant to include participation of youth and First Nations elders all along. She refused to remove those participants’ phrases, which included “Mother Earth is not for sale, would you sell your mother?” and, “It would have been nice to live here back then.”

She said SPES asked for a “community-based” artwork aimed at connecting people with nature and each other fully funded by a grant.

“We asked the elders to share stories about connection to nature and to each other,” Schambach said. “They were aware there was going to be that focus.”

Early in September, however, SPES, she said, requested all the text and five images be removed.

Patricia Thomson, the society’s executive director, disagreed with the suggestion of “censorship.” She said the final product was “technically beautiful,” but would be a better fit elsewhere in the city as it was intended to be an “ecological” message inclusive of all.

“I’m sad the conversation is going this way,” she said. “We really do support the mural, just not in this venue. This is absolutely not censorship.”

Thomson said some of the content could be “misinterpreted or unintentionally alienating” to some people.

The City of Vancouver couldn’t be reached by press time.


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