Artwork outcry

By Simon Ruppert

Benalla's second annual Window to Window Festival has caused controversy thanks to an image of climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Social media has erupted with the usual mix of outrage and people who do not see an issue — after the image appeared on the Benalla Rural City Council offices.

The picture was painted by North East Artisans president Tim Bowtell and features the face of Ms Thunberg.

Organising committee member Blake Smith said the council did not commission the specific work, in response to social media suggestions that it was a political statement made by council.

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Benalla Rural City Councillor Peter Davis told Sky News that he was "disappointed" with the image.

“I am personally a bit disappointed it never came over council’s desk because at the end of the day the council is responsible for what goes on our buildings," he said.

Local artist John Holschier decorated the window of Lionheart on Bridge St.

“We have to be very, very neutral because you have a diverse range of ratepayers."

Mayor Danny Claridge said the council did not have an official position on the artwork.

"The community group that organised Window to Window were given windows to paint, but we as a council, we didn't direct what the images were going to be," Cr Claridge said.

"I personally don't have any views one way or another about the young lady concerned.

``It's a portrait of a young activist apparently, and it was done by a well known Benalla artist.

"As far as council are concerned it's a portrait on a council building and people shouldn't be getting any political mileage out of it.

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"As with Wall to Wall the organisers never dictate the content to the artists.

"We made it clear that art should not be racist or pornographic, and after that it's up to the artist.

"We view it as a piece of art, not a political statement."

With 34 pictures painted on local shop windows and a "street party" at the mural, the event was enjoyed by most who ventured into the central business district at the weekend.

Mr Smith said the idea behind Window to Window was to encourage people to shop locally this Christmas — with artists encouraged to embed a Christmas icon in their work.

"It went really well in terms of bringing people into town to shop local," Mr Smith said.

"There are different artists with different styles and it’s interesting to walk around and see how people have interpreted the brief.

"On Friday we noticed lots of people milling about in the street, a bit longer than they normally might. And there were a lot of people around the CBD on Saturday.

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"We are pretty confident that it is boosting shopping traffic through the CBD, which is the goal.

"I think a lot of the returning artists were happy to come back on board as they enjoyed it last year, and we had a fair few newer artists that enjoyed the day. It was a challenge for some as it was a bit out of their comfort zone.

"We had community groups and schools take part and it’s a great day out for them and something a bit different."

Benalla P-12 College was tasked with decorating a window in Nunn St and teacher Bridget Evans said it was an enjoyable experience for the students.

Local artist Zazh Blake painted this image on the window of Priceline Pharmacy

"I was contacted by Jim Myconos and he asked if Benalla P-12 College would like to do Window to Window," Ms Evans said.

"So I chose a group of students from Years 7 and 8, and there are 10 of us down here.

"The concept is ‘Christmas in our own backyard’.

"So we’ve painted Australian animals wearing Christmas hats and we’ve got a gum tree and some tinsel and some baubles.

"The students didn’t know what they were going to paint when we came down here.

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"But we had 10 students and 10 animals, so I said pick an animal and they each chose one, and they’ve done a great job."

The festival featured new and returning artists.

One taking part for the first time was local artist Zach Blake, who said he enjoyed the experience.

"I got asked to do it last year, but I didn’t have the time to do it," Mr Blake said.

"This year, luckily, I did.

"It’s a community effort where each artist gets their own window to be part of the Window to Window festival.

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"They each do their own little piece, which may end up staying up all year, or may come down a little sooner."

Mr Blake painted a Christmas image on the window of Priceline Pharmacy and said the inspiration just came to him.

"Everyone loves a baby, and everyone loves Yoda," Mr Blake said.

"So I thought why not make a Christmas baby Yoda."

Mr Smith said the committee would now take a break before putting some thought into next year's festival.

"In terms of planning we might just get over this year and we’ll start planning for next year, next year."

Click here for a gallery of Window to Window paintings