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Assiniboine Park not giggling

Conservancy bans artwork against zoo's bear exhibit

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Art may be in the eye of the beholder, but a work of art can be banned by a landlord.

That's what happened when the Assiniboine Park Conservancy banned the award-winning work of a Churchill artist from a show at its Pavilion Gallery Museum, which runs until Oct. 6, because it was critical of the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Mark Reynolds' work, titled Journey from Churchill, criticizes the zoo's multimillion-dollar Journey to Churchill exhibit featuring polar bears, which is set to open next year.

The artwork takes the zoo's logo, puts caged polar bears in the two O's in "zoo" and changes the name to Assinine Park.

The unhappy conservancy did not allow the work to be displayed at the Manitoba Art Network's current Rural and Northern Art Show at the Pavilion Gallery Museum.

Reynolds and some local artists believe the issue is censorship. The conservancy disagrees.

"They should have just let it into the show and it probably wouldn't have made a ripple. Now it will," Reynolds said from Churchill on Wednesday.

"I had a suspicion they wouldn't be happy with it, but they would show it. I never thought they wouldn't show it."

Reynolds said he even had a discussion about the ban when Premier Greg Selinger passed through Churchill in the last few days.

"He said he was sorry to hear it was banned," Reynolds said.

"He thought (the artwork) was cool, but he didn't necessarily agree with it, but he said it deserved to be in the show..."

Journey from Churchill was voted the People's Choice Award by the public attending the Northern Region art show last May.

The rules and regulations for the Northern Region art show state first-place winners in each category, as well as Best of Show and People's Choice winners, "will be eligible to enter the Rural and Northern Art Show" in Winnipeg later in the year.

The conservancy, the private/public not-for-profit charitable organization that took over management of Assiniboine Park for 50 years from the city in 2008, doesn't believe its action can be called censorship.

"For us to comment on censorship, that's not where we're coming from," conservancy spokesman Kevin Hunter said.

"It's a piece of work not respectful of our staff and the people that support us."

Hunter confirmed while the decision was made last week to ban the work from the show, it reconsidered the decision in recent days, but in the end the decision was the same.

Tim Schouten, visual arts program co-ordinator for the Manitoba Arts Network, the presenter of the art show, would only say it has a contract with the conservancy for the show.

"Within the terms of our contract, they have the right to refuse to display anything they believe is unacceptable," Schouten said.

Local artists Diana Thorneycroft and Shauna Dempsey -- neither of whom are strangers to controversial artwork -- are criticizing the conservancy's decision.

"If this banned work of art involved child pornography or threatened the safety of the viewing audience, I'd understand the concern of those censoring the work,," Thorneycroft said.

"But Journey from Churchill is simply about the use of polar bears in the Assiniboine zoo, and the artist's opposition to that practice. In a democratic society, differences in opinion should not only be tolerated, they should be embraced.

"I'd like to ask the people who made the decision to ban the work, 'What are you afraid of?' "

Nazariy Mazovskyy, an organizer of the Churchill show, agreed Reynolds' art shouldn't have been banned.

"It was appreciated by many people here," he said. It was the People's Choice and it was fairly picked. He should be given a chance."

Reynolds said before the ban, he bought a round-trip plane ticket to Winnipeg to take part in this Friday's opening gala.

He said he is still coming -- so he can set up his own protest display outside the park at Corydon Avenue and Shaftesbury Boulevard.

Reynolds said he created the artwork because he, and other people he knows in Churchill, are critical of the zoo using Churchill's name to promote an exhibit of confined polar bears in Winnipeg.

"Churchill doesn't need the zoo's help -- it's the zoo which is using Churchill to help it," he said.

"Churchill is known around the world. Now some people will go to the zoo and cross Churchill off their bucket list of places to go to."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Should Assiniboine Park officials have used the art in question to begin a public debate about the polar bear exhibit’s role? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2013 B1

History

Updated on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 6:17 AM CDT: Replaces photos, adds question for discussion

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