Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs has told the Straight that the city won't force galleries in the future to censor works of art that criticize the Olympics.
Meggs made the comment after city staff forced the removal of a parody of the Olympic rings from a mural outside the Crying Room last month.
"I think that art should provoke debate and controversy," Meggs said. "I've been adamant all the way through: we're not about censoring any of that stuff, so this is a really regrettable incident."
Meggs, who speaks for Vision Vancouver on Olympic-related issues, said he spoke to Barb Windsor, the city's chief licence inspector.
"She said there were complaints that it's graffiti," Meggs said. "There is a spot right adjacent to it where murals are encouraged and permitted."
Meggs added that city staff told him that the work of art could have been placed on that spot, but not on the panel at the front of the Downtown Eastside gallery.
"I've heard staff," he said. "They acted in good faith, but I can understand why critics would see this as vindiction of their worst fears. But we'll take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again."
COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth described the city's actions as "censorship".
"That is something that has been there since September 25th," she said. "It's in front of an art gallery. Who gets to decide that art is graffiti? Since when do we get to walk into art galleries and tell them, 'No, you can't have that there because it's graffiti, not art.' "
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter to the city expressing its "disappointment" that the city had targeted freedom of expression, and urged a review of the city's processes to ensure this doesn't happen again.
Meanwhile, the owner of the Crying Room, Colleen Heslin, told the Straight by phone from Toronto that the board was originally installed to feature a public poster presentation by Jeremy Shaw, which was put on by Presentation House Gallery.
"They were using the front of my gallery space as one of the main sites for that project," Heslin said.
When Presentation House didn't put up a new poster, she invited artist Jesse Corcoran to use the space. He decided to paint the Olympic rings with one happy face and four frowning faces.
Heslin said that the city contacted her landlord, Peter Wong, and said this "graffiti" had to be removed. He contacted Heslin, who complied with the city's request even though the mural had been on display for nearly two months.
"I wasn't surprised when they asked us to take it down," Heslin said. "I was curious to see how long it would be, just because of the direct use of the Olympic logo."
She added that she has asked Corcoran to paint a new mural, which would say, "Where will you be February 12 to 28, 2010?"
That's when the Winter Olympics will take place in Vancouver.
Corcoran told the Straight that he's "definitely" considering the idea.
"I work in the Downtown Eastside at a homeless shelter for probably the most marginalized community in Vancouver, and maybe the country," Corcoran said. "And I've just personally found it frustrating that so many of the issues that these folks [face], who are suffering so greatly, are not being addressed, but we're just throwing money at a sporting event."