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A recent change of the flood wall mural by the lead artist, including covering a section with stenciled-on fish with dark paint, irked artists who'd previously worked on the wall. Photo by Brian Arola 

MANKATO — Work has continued on the flood wall mural since its dedication two weeks ago, but artists who contributed to the piece are irked by the extent of recent changes.

Lead artist Julie Johnson-Fahrforth is the only artist allowed to work on the project at this point.

Given until Sept. 11 to complete it, on Monday she painted over a section on the left side of the mural where fish had been stenciled on by another artist with dark paint.

She said that particular portion didn’t fit her vision for the project, and she’d long thought about changing the section. As lead artist, she said she’s been given the right to shape the mural to her vision.

“I just wasn’t satisfied,” she said of the section. “The aesthetics weren’t there and the community wasn’t on board with it either."

The other contributors to the mural, including Michael Cimino, and Ann and Andrew Judkins, took issue with the changes. They say they weren’t informed of the “drastic” switch.

The three contributing artists haven’t been involved with the mural since its dedication on Aug. 24. They were told at a meeting with the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts around then that their work was completed, and only Johnson-Fahrforth would continue on to make minor changes.

They disagreed with the decision, but figured any changes would be minor. The fish might end up having a light blue background, for instance.

The changes eventually put in place go against the designs they all came up with for the mural, they said.

“It contradicts the mock ups we did and the plan we set out to do at the beginning,” Andrew said.

He said he and the others were flexible to changes, but would’ve liked to be involved in any big decisions.

Cimino, who took the lead on the section with the fish, said the idea all along was to blend the fish into the landscape of the mural.

While acknowledging that the lead artist was given freedom to work on the rest of the project, he said it’s tough to see his hard work painted over.

Johnson-Fahrforth gave credit to Cimino’s work, but said she disagreed with how that section was laid out since the beginning. She said she’d heard from the public that the section didn’t fit with the rest of the mural.

“This is a long, thought-out decision,” she said. “If they have a vision and they did a project, they’ll want their vision and project to turn out how they want it to.”

She said there’s plenty of room along the rest of the flood wall for other projects.

Despite the disagreement, the Judkins said they have great respect for Johnson-Fahrforth’s work to make the mural happen. Their issue, said Ann, is with how they’ve been shut out of the process so late. What had seemed a democratic process throughout turned into something else, Ann said.

“She said we could all work together on it, and I assumed that was to the very end,” she said.

Johnson-Fahrforth said she felt she did communicate changes to the rest of the group. And the changes will continue, she said, even if she’s received backlash from the other artists.

“I’m not done with the fish,” she said. “I still have to take out many different things.”

The Judkins said they accept that the project is now out of their hands. If asked, Andrew said he’d like to continue to help.

Cimino said he ultimately hopes the drama attached to the project doesn’t deter future public art projects from happening.

“The worst case would be if the controversy surrounding it led to fewer opportunities for public art in the future,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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