GNWT plans to start tracking public art after ‘forgotten’ mural

Five months after the tale of an abandoned mural frustrated the NWT’s art community, the territorial government says it will do a better job of curating art in its care.

Artist Walt Humphries’ 30-foot mural, originally installed at Yellowknife’s old Stanton Territorial Hospital, ended up lying in the snow after a new hospital was opened on adjacent land.

“I was a little shocked that it ended up like that,” Humphries said at the time. “That’s not the way you store a big mural.”


Humphries’ mural wasn’t the only example of public art – works bought and displayed by the territorial government – either treated carelessly or going missing.

“Visual art, all by itself, is such a powerful thing,” Yellowknife artist Terry Pamplin told Cabin Radio, “but to try to get people to realize that and have it actually instituted in public budgeting seems like an impossibility up here.”

Yet after Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green asked questions about the GNWT’s treatment of public art, the territorial government is now committing to a better system of tracking the art it owns.

In an October 13 letter to Green – who asked the questions as a regular MLA in June and has since become a government minister – her cabinet colleague RJ Simpson acknowledged Humphries’ mural had been treated poorly.

Simpson, the culture minister, wrote: “Currently there is no central tracking policy for GNWT-owned artworks, or guidelines to provide special care for artworks not under the direct care of conservation staff at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.


“I recognize there is a need to consider art purchased and commissioned by the GNWT as a unique category of asset that may require the development of additional policies and processes to manage and protect these assets.”

Simpson said culture, industry, infrastructure, and finance officials were now “developing a proposal to expand current asset tracking tools to incorporate artworks, along with policies and procedures documents.”

An update is anticipated later in the fall, the minister said.

Simpson described the apparent abandonment of Humphries’ hospital mural as “unfortunate” and said conservation experts within the territorial government were helping Department of Infrastructure staff to “properly store and re-install” the piece.


“Assets such as these have cultural and social value beyond what can be measured monetarily,” Simpson wrote.

“I will work to ensure that responsibilities for the care and management of GNWT-owned art are clarified to improve the way GNWT-owned art is treated in the future.”