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Duncan council unanimous: mural must be removed

Cyrus Genier will paint over his mural if ordered by Duncan council, but he is still holding out hope that it can be saved. - Peter W. Rusland
Cyrus Genier will paint over his mural if ordered by Duncan council, but he is still holding out hope that it can be saved.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

A controversial Community mural in Phoenix Motor Inn's parking lot was ordered removed during city council's unanimous vote Monday.

But by meeting's end, it was muddy about exactly when the mural must be painted over — or perhaps covered with plywood — and what consequences could follow if the removal is not done, staff told Duncan council.

"There are no rules for this," administrator Tom Ireland said.

Councillor Joe Thorne understood.

"No matter which way we go, people will get hurt," he said.

The emotional council huddle — packed with sign-waving supporters of Cyrus Genier's illegal artwork — saw six councillors (Tom Duncan was absent) hear pleas from folks asking council to make an exception and keep the work for which Genier failed to gain a city permit.

Nicolette Genier, the young artist's mom, handed council a 1,200-name petition demanding the mural remain, while admitting it was commissioned without a permit.

"Some may feel threatened by my activist nature," the Community Farm Store owner said, citing rights of expression. "Sometimes controversy can be the best thing ever.

"The only permission missing was yours," she told council. "Art is not your specialty. This mural is something to embrace, not erase."

Judy Stafford, of Cowichan Green Communities, always urged more thought.

"This is an opportunity for council to take pause and make space for other voices to be heard."

She noting more serious local issues, such as the dry river and homelessness.

However, Councillor Michelle Staples' motion to table council's decision, and further discuss the rogue mural, was defeated.

"This (mural ruling) isn't being done in a way I'd like to see us building community," she said.

Still, Councillor Sharon Jackson explained council can't allow flouting of city bylaws.

"These aren't my bylaws, they're your bylaws. We can make no exceptions. What would be next?"

Nicolette Genier was angry council was unswayed.

"You guys had your minds made up when this meeting started," she said to Mayor Phil Kent's gavel-banging for order.

"You've ignored our petition."

But Kent later told of his lesson about listening learned from former Lt.-Gov. Steven Point.

"Listening is hearing others and respecting what they say."

Some councillors were upset about threatening emails, phone calls, newspaper letters and stories, and other insults from citizens saying the mural should stay, despite Genier breaking city rules.

"I only engage in respectful dialogue," said Councillor Michelle Bell, noting council can't circumvent its own rules.

"This is about a mural painted without a permit. Council encourages diversity of opinions," she continued. "Rules and laws make people feel safe."

Genier was asked to reapply for a permit, and submit a new mural drawing.

Council reworked a proposed motion to remove a clause that would prohibited a future application for another graffiti-style mural, instead leaving that possibility open.

Artist Glenn Spicer stressed creative graffiti and urban art are recognized art forms.

He offered to help in the arts-jury process, penned by the Cowichan Valley Arts Council and adopted Monday.

"Art and graffiti are very subjective — we want to encourage public art."

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