On Thursday (Feb. 28) afternoon the agenda for the Monday March 4 meeting of Mission council was posted to the district webpage.
The agenda states that a notice of motion has moved by Davies.
“That Council reconsider resolution RC19/098 regarding the 1st Avenue public art proposal by artist Imu Chan.”
The meeting takes place at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. It is open to the public.
A new piece of public art for Mission’s downtown core has created a large backlash on social media – large enough that it has helped sway one councillor, who says he wants to change his vote.
Coun. Mark Davies stated he’s no longer in favour of the art piece and would like to see it reconsidered by council.
The art piece was unanimously approved by council last week, based on the recommendation of the Cultural Resources Commission.
The commission reviewed the eight proposals submitted by artists, after the project was put out for bids, and narrowed it down to two finalists.
One of the final two artists pulled out of the bidding process, and Vancouver artist Imu Chan’s idea was presented to council for approval.
His piece, called Tartan, is described as a three-dimensional, cube-shaped interpretation of the District of Mission tartan that will be made of coloured Plexiglas with a colour palette and pattern inspired by the district’s tartan.
The cube is supposed to be suspended above the sidewalk mid-block on First Avenue, between Welton and Horne Streets.
The price of the proposed project is $50,300 and is within the existing operating budget for public art.
When the story was first reported in the Mission Record and online, public reaction was swift.
Davies called the public feedback “blistering.”
“What really stuck out to me was the feedback on the process (and) the fact that the community was not involved in the decision-making of this project.”
He said the first time he saw the piece was at the council meeting.
“It comes up, you’re pressed to make a decision and you move on,” he said.
While he has changed his mind, Davies said the social media backlash was not the sole deciding factor.
“Negative feedback was a part of it. But after doing more research, looking at past agendas, watching past meetings, seeing what the cultural commission was actually tasked with doing and seeing what came out, I felt that this piece of art missed the mark.
“I didn’t feel it was in the right location. I didn’t feel that it was the right style. I felt it was potentially dangerous, exposed to traffic like that. There were many considerations.”
He said it was a tough decision to change his mind.
With all the comments he has received, Davies said most were supportive of public art, but people “just want to feel like they are part of the process.”
While he is not sure whether he can get the public art decision back in front of the council table, Davies believes they can “develop a comprehensive community engagement plan that outlines exactly how this is done” and give the community the option to choose which direction council will go.
“If we don’t listen to the public that voted for us and take their feedback to heart, and pay attention to it, we’re not doing our jobs,” Davies said.
Two other councillors have also taken to social media to express their thoughts.
Coun. Ken Herar wrote on Facebook: “Looking back now, I believe the public should have been more involved in this process that something our citizens can feel proud of. Moving forward, we will make the necessary changes and communicate this with District staff. If we can bring changes to the contract I will certainly try. The greatest concern I have now, which no one has discussed, is the possibility of vandalism, which we don’t want. Accountability is important.”
Coun. Jag Gill also commented on Facebook, saying he plans to meet with district staff and wants to “work with staff to look at the process on how we communicate with the residents of Mission. We need a process that is transparent to all demographics that can include Facebook, newspapers and etc. Reaching as many residents as we can and getting everyone’s input is vital.”
Mission Mayor Pam Alexis said the process for choosing a piece of public art was followed correctly. However, discussions about the artwork could come back to council.
“Any council member can certainly put a notice of motion on the floor to talk about anything. That would be a mechanism for any councillor … whether or not it dies as a notice of motion that night or is supported, I don’t know,” Alexis said.
She said anybody who wanted to create a piece of public art could have applied for this project, local artist or not.
“When you put a call for submissions, out it goes to a number of different entities. It goes locally, it goes to CreativeCity, which is a website that artists go to that do major pieces of public art.”
Often, few submission are received.
“On the scale of things, this is not considered a large project and some artists don’t even want to tackle it,” Alexis said.
“As far a process went, we followed everything. As for the vetting process, we do have the Cultural Resources Commission, which is made up from people in the cultural sector of Mission.”
That commission of volunteers helped create the public art policy
She said council is kept at arm’s length and only decides which art piece to choose based on the commission’s recommendations, making it more of a “public decision of what would work in a specific place.”
Alexis also said there were two options presented to council by the commission when council chose the “Big M” art piece unveiled last year, adding there was a similar uproar on social media.
“Public art is intended to challenge people, to make people think to have an opinion and on and on.”
As for some councillors having second thoughts, Alexis said making decisions is something you have to learn to feel comfortable with.
“Decision-making is a complex and very difficult thing. I’ve had years of experience making difficult decisions and I hearken back to my school trustee days, closing four schools, and the agony and anguish around those decisions are never easy.
“I always say if you sleep at night after making a decision, then you know in your heart of hearts that you made the right decision.”