EDITORIAL – Downtown mural program needs to hit the reset button

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWEST MURAL in downtown Kamloops?

I got a look at it and I’m not impressed. In the past, I’ve been critical of a lot of public art, and complimentary to quite a bit as well. In general, public art is a good thing but the mural program is turning into a mish mash.

Pictured in the new mural just off Seymour Street is the face of a man with a missing eyeball, and it’s not a pretty sight.

The artists, who have created a couple of other, really good, murals in the downtown area, have been quoted as saying it’s about communicating without words.

I love the way artists come up with this stuff. I defy anyone to look at this one-eyed face and figure out what the message or purpose of it is.

Art of any kind is great for stimulating debate. Is it art, is it not? What does it mean? Is it derivative of the modernist genre, etc. etc.

However, the mural program has lost all semblance of theme or consistency. Diversity of styles is good but shouldn’t there at least be some sense of purpose, such as saying something about Kamloops — its lifestyle, its demographics or its history, for example? Would “uplifting” be too stringent a criterion?

Some of the murals meet those tests but this one looks like something out of a scary movie.

The artists aren’t to blame — somebody has to approve this stuff. A City bylaw sets out a process for murals, whether on public or private property. There are minimum standards, and forms to fill out.

On this one, the program stewards dropped the ball. Time to give the mural program itself a thorough once-over.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He writes five commentaries a week for CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (8247 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

7 Comments on EDITORIAL – Downtown mural program needs to hit the reset button

  1. I actually drove by this Mural today and was a little confused myself. It gives the first impression of gritt! I’m not sure I see the downtown core represented by this theme. On the other hand it is drawn by a talented artist. Can we have a little more “sunshine” added to the theme?

  2. Barb Hembling // November 14, 2019 at 9:26 PM // Reply

    I love the work featuring a man with one eye closed. I loved it from the first moment I saw it. It never occurred to me that the eye might be missing, but that would be OK as well. I met a man at a spiritual workshop who had one eye which was permanently closed, and noticeably smaller than the other. He had been shot in the eye in Vietnam, while serving as a medic. He became a dear friend and spiritual advisor. After a very short while I didn’t see the mismatch in his eyes. Perhaps that is why I loved this picture so much. But I suspect that I would have loved this picture anyways, as I didn’t see the eye as something missing. I saw it as designating character in my friend.

    This is not to oppose Mel’s comment. Just to illustrate that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And physical anomalies can be loved, perhaps even more than regular features, because human beings are not always symmetrical. Offering the world a distorted picture is possibly an act of love and trust. Accepting that picture and loving it can complete the transaction. And that it is a process…. I was lucky enough to have it offered to me.

    Now a person very close to me has had the misfortune to have had part of her face “destroyed” by illness. She now has the difficult opportunity to learn to trust that it will meet loving eyes.

    I am in no way criticizing Mel or any other who reacts as he did. If the person was real and not a work of art, the opportunity to love would be more compelling.

  3. Shayne Turner // November 14, 2019 at 7:12 PM // Reply

    Totally agree with you on this point… any mural in the public, on public property should have a theme based for the community and hopefully an uplifting perspective… the streets and alleys should not be used as some artist’s private gallery regardless if its considered to be art or not… especially when it is public monies.

  4. When it comes to painted murals, I will agree yet disagree with you Mel. You talk about defining public art as being a stimulate for debate, and obviously our painted walls work as such … as that’s exactly what we’re doing here today. And thats a good thing.

    But regarding the diversity of style following a theme, even if the theme is as meaningless and bland as ‘uplifting’, I couldnt disagree more. That is a vanilla approach to expression, art itself and the viewing of art. Not all art is to be gazed upon and head broodingly accepted,
    while holding a canape and white wine.

    The visceral and emotive gasp of breath a viewer may experience when being challenged by a piece is just as important. An artist has the ability to force us to look at a piece, and therefore look at ourselves. Upset the routine boat of our day, our life and our existence and make us reconsider something, or have a thought we would not otherwise have had.

    I’m reminded of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. In its day it was hugely controversial, and an absolute slap in the face for many, considered objectionable and insulting. Now look at how we honour it. A City mural isnt at that level, but the point is time softens outrage once people become accustomed to new ideas in art.

    On a city outdoor wall, a level of ‘publicly view-able conservative norm’ needs to be held to … but beyond that? No. Chances must be taken, and we should be at times smacked out of our own heads to see and think about new and different ideas.

    I applaud the individuals with the City that allowed this painting and the other pieces in town, they are looking outside of the box when making these decisions.

    I didnt know, as another commentor noted there is no booklet or pamphlet provided by the city, as a walking tour with artist descriptors. There should be. Its winter time, good time to get it designed for next year.

    The newer statues in town? I’m not such a fan of these … but thats for another day.

  5. L Dawne Taylor // November 14, 2019 at 10:07 AM // Reply

    I have no problem with a variety of murals, but the City does need to pull up its socks in the promotion department. A Probus group walked the alleys 2 days ago, with no help or direction from the City – because they don’t do mural tours anymore! Could not at least be a booklet available telling the story of each mural, and maybe something about the artist?

  6. This is a joke, right Mel?

  7. There should be a mixing of styles, artists, theme etc. and it does not have to be about Kamloops either. The one piece of public art at the roundabout at Lorne and Third is un-look-able too if I you ask me and then all that faux-rock of the water feature nearby, not far from the shore of the mighty river…who comes up with these undignified design features?

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