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Public asked to weigh in on supergraphics in Olds

Online and printed questionnaire approved
mvt MuralUptowne-1
One of a couple of murals in uptown Olds. File photo/MVP Staff

OLDS — Town council has approved a plan to get public input on how the town should deal with supergraphics (a term that includes murals) in the community.

Town officials intend to obtain that feedback online and via a printed questionnaire from Aug. 5 to Sept. 15.

Results will be collated and analyzed from Sept. 16 to 30.

The goal is to present a report, including recommendations, to council in October.

A draft form of the plan was presented to council during its July 6 policies and priorities meeting. Council gave it final approval during its July 13 meeting.

A preamble to the survey notes that murals are currently covered in the town’s Land Use Bylaw (LUB) and that a development permit must be obtained in order to install supergraphics on a building in the community.

Town officials see a need to clarify the definition and regulation of murals; hence the drive for public consultation regarding them.

“Council has directed administration to receive public consultation to establish where public opinions are and provide recommendations on whether municipal resources should be allocated for a mural program and to what extent should the town regulate murals,” a preamble to the questionnaire says.

During the policies and priorities meeting, Coun. Heather Ryan was one of a few councillors who were taken aback by some strong comment on social media suggesting the town is opposed having murals in the community.

Ryan said to her knowledge, town council has never said it is against murals in town. Other councillors backed her up on that.

“We just knew that we didn’t have any kind of policy in place or a strong enough policy in place to cover the maintenance of those acquired,” Ryan said at that time.

“These murals are out in the fresh air. They’re going to get weathered. They’re going to eventually deteriorate and then look poorly.”

Back in 2019, the town set up a Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC).

Its purpose is to provide expert and community input on public art for the town. Part of that mandate is to provide input on murals.

“Given the probability murals may have sensitivity to their placement and content, the development authority defers evaluating merits of a mural application to the Public Arts Advisory Committee,” the survey says.

A memo written by community facilitator Jennifer Lutz lists a few risks in conducting the survey this summer.

“People are adjusting to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including dealing with increased financial and social pressures. Moving forward at this time, the public may not view this as a priority,” she wrote.

“Staff resources and the availability of stakeholders could be impacted if there is an increase of COVID-19 cases and public health conditions change.

“Further delay increases the length of time to proactively address potential mural developments.”

During the July 13 meeting, Coun. Mitch Thomson said when the results of the public engagement on supergraphics comes back to council this fall, he’d like to see council “take another look at the role of the Public Arts Advisory Committee and have that as part of the discussion so that the community clearly understands the role of the committee.”

Asked why he wants council to undertake that further look, Thomson provided an answer by email.

I think it is important that the PAAC have a good composition of artists and public members,” he wrote.

“I understand councillors also sit on the committee. I would like to ensure that we do not create processes that are too bureaucratic.

“I appreciate art and understand that people have different tastes but don’t want to get in the weeds about whether the photos are all agriculture and heritage or more abstract.

“I want to encourage further art in the community that is citizen-led and attracts people to our community places.”

Like other councillors, Thomson also indicated he wants more clarification on maintenance standards for murals and who’s responsible for their upkeep.

He said he’d like to learn how the committee can encourage more art in the community “while avoiding red tape and enforcement costs in the future.”