A new mural is going up in downtown Williams Lake, despite the disapproval of the city mayor.
Downtown Williams Lake BIA executive director Jordan Davis said she has received overwhelming support for the latest mural and its all-female quintet of artists who plan to combine burned forests and whales to “show the tragedy of the fires, while showing the spectator the possibility and beauty of rising above this,” Davis noted in her original request to council.
At the last city council meeting Sept. 15, the mayor and council voted unanimously to defer funding for the project until a policy could be put in place to vet potential murals. Mayor Walt Cobb drew the ire of many when he commented the mural sketch submitted for funding was ‘ugly.’
“I was disappointed in that perspective because art is subjective,” Davis told Black Press Media Sept. 23 in a follow-up interview to the original story. “Everybody is going to see it differently.”
Following the public meeting, Davis and Downtown Williams Lake, who has partnered with the City on mural projects since about 2011, received overwhelming support for the mural concept and for including female artists. Davis noted resident also voiced their objection to politicians determining what art is for Williams Lake.
“We got so much good feedback. I feel like it was a huge blessing in disguise. We would never have known how people felt.”
Davis said the mural was able to move forward before winter thanks to a unanimous decision by Williams Lake First Nation council to fund the remaining $5,000 portion Downtown Williams Lake was seeking from the city.
“We are very thankful. It’s so heartwarming to see there is support for this.”
Speaking with Mayor Cobb Wednesday (Sept. 23), he said the situation “is what it is.”
“I don’t say I regret it, it was my opinion,” Cobb said of calling the mural ugly. “It was never intended to belittle the artists. Sometimes we don’t always get what we like. That’s the way the system works, but I could have chosen different words.”
Cobb said the policy surrounding murals wasn’t as clear as it should have been, noting he always thought the intention was to have murals reflect the area or the city’s heritage.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t like like about it and still don’t like about it,” Cobb said of the 2020 mural. Specifically, Cobb said he still hears from residents who remain traumatized by the experience of the 2017 wildfires and he doesn’t feel people need a reminder of that downtown. He also wonders what whales have to do with the Cariboo.
“I could see salmon, but why whales?”
Cobb said meetings are being scheduled now to discuss moving forward with a clear policy surrounding what the murals should be, and who will approve them.
“For me the most important part is having a clear policy and a vetting process and sticking to it.”
Davis said she has always loved murals and is already eyeing future projects for the lakecity such as a mural on historical women of the Cariboo as well as a sombre piece on missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Diversity is the key, she said, to keeping the downtown vibrant.