Nfld. & Labrador

Artist upset after city of St. John's removes outdoor art installation

A local artist is upset with the city of St. John's, after her publicly funded outdoor art installation was unceremoniously taken down by city officials and thrown into the dump.

Art Installation

7 years ago
Duration 2:40
Art Installation

A local artist is upset with the city of St. John's, after her publicly funded outdoor art installation was unceremoniously taken down by city officials and thrown into the dump.

Pepa Chan's exhibit, titled Resurfacing, featured 12 different sculptures and was stationed at the Quidi Vidi Lake trail.

A sign was posted near the art to explain what people were seeing, and credited and attributed the poems used in the exhibit.

"It explored human empathy towards forgotten identities and traumas of aboriginal children, using found toys and aboriginal poetry," said Chan.

She produced the installation with the help of grants from the city of St. John's and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, but she did not ask for or receive permission to showcase her work in public.

Visited exhibit every day

A large plaque was hanging nearby the exhibit, that explained its purpose and why it was situated on the Quidi Vidi Trails. The city says the workers who took the exhibit down didn't know what it was, and Pepa Chan says she was told that workers did not see her sign. (Noah Bender)

For the past three weeks, Chan had been visiting the exhibit each day, watching how people interacted with it.

While there, Chan said she often talked with people walking the trails and saw a positive response to the installation.

But Deputy City Manager of Public Works Lynnann Winsor says the city had received complaints about the art, and dispatched a crew to clean it up.

"Pepa did receive an arts grant to create the project in 2014 but nowhere in her application did it state that she would be installing it on city property," Winsor told CBC News in an email.

"The art was placed on city property without permission. Following complaints from the public it was removed by Parks staff who were unaware what it was."​

No notice

Pepa Chan is upset after her art installation was taken down and thrown out by city officials. (CBC )

Chan said that she neglected to apply for a permit, because of the large amount of work and red tape that goes into doing so.

She said that it can be difficult for art that crosses traditional boundaries to get recognized and accepted using that process.

On Tuesday, when Chan visited the display, she was stunned to find that it was gone and there was no sign of it on the trails.

"I went every day there to check that work, except for that one day [Monday]," she said.

"It's like what I was trying to explore with my work, their answer to it was so violent."

She said that while she understands that she didn't have the legal right to display the art, she's shocked that the city completely disposed of all of her artwork

"It's like they threw [out] all their own money. In a way, it's kind of ridiculous." petition

As part of Pepa Chan's art installation, twelve sculptures were placed outside on the Quidi Vidi Trails. The installation was meant to invoke the forgotten identities and traumas of aboriginal children using found toys and aboriginal poetry. (Noah Bender )

In the wake of the incident, filmmaker Mark Hoffe created a online petition asserting that Public Art is a Public Right

The petition has nearly 150 signatures, many of them from people who are similarly outraged that the city took down the artwork.

In his letter to the city, Hoffe wrote: "We the undersigned demand that you offer a public apology to Pepa and consider monetary compensation for the labour, art materials, and public funding you threw away with the city's trash."

Waiting on apology

The artwork by Pepa Chan was funded through grants from the City of St. John's and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council. Despite this, the city says that Chan had no license to install the art in public. (Noah Bender )

Although Chan said she has received sympathetic notes from people in the City of St. John's, she said that nobody directly involved in taking down the art has apologized to her.

While her art was destroyed in this instance, Chan has no plans to shy away from placing art outside in the future.

By placing art outdoors, for all to see, Chan said that art can reach people who otherwise wouldn't get the chance to see it. 

"I don't want public art to be seen as vandalism because I think it's not," she said. 

"I think that public art is actually one of the most important kinds of art that exist because not everyone goes to galleries."