When winter thaws and warmer weather brings Yellowknifers outdoors, a familiar downtown mural will be refurbished to its former glory.
Artist Terry Pamplin has been working for hours nearly every day since January fixing his multiple panel “Articpaction.”
A play on the old ‘ParticipACTION’ fitness commercials, Articipaction shows how the arts complement the sports world. It depicts major sports and recreational activities seen in the community.
“This mural is being redone completely out of my love for the original and my pride in putting my name on something in public,” he says. “But it’s also about trying to challenge fellow artists to get out there and take care of the pieces they have created in the past.”
Pamplin’s mural is one of several he has done or participated in for the downtown. It is an ode to physical activities, but also a reminder of how the arts and sports should be on equal footing when it comes to accessing public funding.
“I was sort of spoofing the fact that everybody lines up for sports and recreation funding and the arts always seems to take the hind tit,” he admits.
Mural ribbon cutting in 2008
The mural was first erected on the street-side wall of Overlander Sports in January 2008 to great fanfare. Several Yellowknifers attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony with then-mayor Gord Van Tighem.
Pamplin noticed late last year that the colours on the artwork were waning. As a result, he arranged for the panels to be brought to the basement of Overlander.
“When I first started way back when, I used exterior sign gradation enamel paints. My thinking was that is the toughest thing you can do,” he explains of the mural. “But they faded like you wouldn’t believe.
“It really suffered over the years and I didn’t realize it until (recently).”
When it was first mounted, there was no sense of how long the painting might last. He says it is a disappointment that it didn’t endure longer since he used quality exterior paint.
Pamplin says he has reached out to the painting company Liquitex for advice. As a result, he has been using two or three lines of acrylic industrial paint.
He then coats the piece with an ultraviolet protected varnish developed by Liquitex.
Downtown murals and public art
According to the NWT Arts Art Walk map, there are up to 38 places with recognized public art in downtown Yellowknife.
Pamplin’s other public murals include the large Charlie Delorme portrait hung at Somba K’e Dental Centre in 2018.
He also collaborated over the years with other artists. Among the works have been the Legacy Mural at True Value Hardware and the Foster Family Coalition mural put up last winter.
He has a vision of more public art in Yellowknife’s downtown because many of the buildings in the core aren’t aesthetically pleasing.
“The Greenstone building isn’t a bad building to look at but the rest of them are basically utility boxes. Steel clad, grey and blue. So anything would help.”
He is impressed with his fellow artists who dotted the central core over the years with paintings. He notes the transformation of Northwestel utility boxes and the northern lights depictions on the wall by the Swap Shop, as examples.
But he wants to help inspire other artists continue doing more, including in restoration.
”The Charlie Delorme portrait I made is the biggest portrait so far and it is not just a single panel stuck up somewhere,” he says. “If you look at Montreal, there is a building where Leonard Cohen’s portrait is on it, about 12 to 14 stories high. That is just amazing.
“Public art makes a huge difference, otherwise Yellowknife could be like any city anywhere.”
Seeking support for mural restoration
Costs are substantial for refurbishing and it is advisable for the GNWT or the City of Yellowknife to consider financial help for fixing aging paintings, he says.
The project’s cost breakdown includes $1,000 in paints and varnish, $800 for removing, transporting and reinstalling. There is still another $200 for sawhorses and tables, he adds.
“There has to be a program because I got original funding for this through the NWT Arts Council way back when. At that time it was an adequate amount,” he says. “I went back this time and I said the time has come for it to be refurbished.”
However he didn’t get much of an enthusiastic response because it involved repair, he says.
He also made an effort to get financial assistance from the City of Yellowknife’s Heritage Committee and did receive some funding.
But he had to make the case that sports activity in Yellowknife is culturally worth supporting.
“The mural depicts everybody in town and just about all the sports from high-kick to snowshoeing to wheelchair athletes,” he says. “You’ll also note that it is culturally appropriate. There are no depictions of white, black or yellow skin colours.”
‘Whomever commissions the artwork should pay for restoration’
Monique Robert, another mural artist, has two prominent pieces downtown. One is the Working Public, near the Black Knight Pub. The other is the Woodyard Boat Launch, near Aurora Village.
She agrees that funding public art restoration is a very welcome idea.
“After you buy a car, does a mechanic get paid for its’ upkeep?” she says. “There are still too many who think ‘exposure’ is enough as payment for artists. Let alone we being paid for restoration of our own work.”
Her Woodyard Boat Launch, which depicts a canoe launch in Old Town, is noticeably worn from bike peddle scraping. Its condition has deteriorated due to being moved without her approval. It has also seen screws put through the artwork in multiple places, she says.
“Without knowing the situation, it is easy to blanket it as the artist’s responsibility to do restoration work for free if (artists) want to maintain ‘their image’”,” she says. “ In my opinion, whomever commissions the artwork should be the ones to pay for restoration. However, it has to be clearly stated just ‘who’ owns it.”
Arts and Culture Master Plan
Mayor Rebecca Alty says that council has budgeted $75,000 for the creation of an Arts and Culture Master Plan for 2021. The plan is to collaborate “an inventory of programs and assets” regarding public art.
From that plan, the city will have a better idea on where challenges lie with arts of all kinds. It can then create a community vision for public art.
Pamplin’s situation presents the challenge of whether the government should spend beyond up front costs, she adds.
“I’m not an artist so I don’t know if there are different paints or materials to use to ensure murals have a longer lifespan or what type of impact our northern climate will have on murals,” she says. “When Terry put an application forward for support, it triggered the idea that it is one thing to provide up front costs. But then after that who provides ongoing funding to ensure these murals (retain their look)?”
Murals have ‘positive effect’ on downtown
Overlander Sports co-owner Sandra Stirling says the mural has had a positive effect on her business as all others do downtown. She is looking forward to seeing Pamplin’s work displayed at her storefront wall again within a month.
“It has been a huge boon to our storefront to have this mural on the outside of the building,” she says. “The art is colourful, relevant and fun. I feel that customers walking by or driving by have seen this over the years and have been excited to see it.
“Any of the the murals in the downtown area of Yellowknife are all good to have for a variety of reasons. All of which are positive.”
NNSL Media reached out to the GNWT Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment for comment on downtown public art murals. Responses were not available by press time.