This time next week, Botwood will play host to dozens of artists, dignitaries, and visitors, flocking to the central Newfoundland community for the 2018 Global Mural Conference.
Organizers are expecting between 60 and 70 participants for the four-day event, beginning Sept. 12. According to Mike Shainline, director for the Botwood Mural Arts Society, about half will be from Newfoundland and Labrador, with the other half coming from all over the world.
While the conference will naturally be rooted in mural art, Shainline said the focus will be on economic development as it relates to all the arts.
“It’s not just murals,” he said. “The creative economy; whether it’s live theatre, visual art, arts and crafts, music – all of that comes under the umbrella of the creative economy, and that’s something that we don’t really recognize here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
He says many people think about mining, the fishery, and forestry when they think about industry, and tend to relegate the arts to a luxury or sidenote. The society, however, has sought since 2010 to bring visual art, at least, to the very heart of the community.
“There’s so many ways to interpret a piece of art,” Shainline said, citing a mural depicting a well-loved doctor. “Take The Pulse of the Community. If they grew up here and were cared for by Dr. Twomey, they have a different impression – obviously – than someone who is coming here as a visitor from the mainland who has no connection to him. It creates different emotions for different people.”
There are currently eight completed murals in town, with the number expected to grow to 13 by the end of the month. Irish artist Ciaran Gallagher is one of the people working on oversized canvases in the run-up to the conference, in this case, on the side of the Legion.
“They’ve given me a list of things that they’d like to have in there,” he said. “My job is to creatively bring them together in a composition that is in line with the rest of the murals.”
Shainline described the style as akin to Norman Rockwell’s work in that the murals depict real people with little interpretation needed. Still, the committee is hard at work on story boards that will accompany the murals.
“Even people that live here, there are some [murals] they don’t have full knowledge of,” Shainline said. “For example, not everyone would know where the visual for The Water Nipper came from, in that it was a photograph taken during the war years. Story boards will help with that.”
Whether they know the stories or not, Botwood residents are very much in support of the murals in general and the conference specifically. Shainline says he was at the Legion site with Gallagher recently when a group of teenagers ventured past. One said, “man, that’s sick!”
“In my generation, that’s a negative response,” Shainline chuckled. “Then I realized that was a compliment.”
Unlike visitors to a gallery or an audience at a concert, the number of people taking in the murals is hard to quantify. Mayor Scott Sceviour says he has heard from many business owners that it’s a rare day that goes by without someone mentioning the “beautiful murals.”
Whether they come to see them specifically or happen upon them while there is less important.
“Hard to put numbers to it, but we’re starting to see the fruition of the hard work these people have put in,” he said.
As for the conference, Sceviour says he looks forward to seeing people from around the world in the community, and emphasized how excited he is for the group that has been working towards this goal since 2010.
Hosting the conference happened somewhat quicker than expected, but Botwood is ready to welcome the world.
“The conference gives us an opportunity to showcase what Newfoundland is all about,” Sceviour said.
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