Artist Scraps Plans for Thunberg Mural After Boycott Threats

Threats against the Brick Oven Bakery in downtown Bismarck have prompted local artist Shane Balkowitsch to scrap plans to put a 7-foot-tall mural of activist Greta Thunberg on the side of the building. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

A North Dakota artist said Wednesday he has scrapped his plans for a mural honoring Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg following boycott threats against a Bismarck business that would have featured the outdoor image.

Shane Balkowitsch had planned to put a 7-foot-tall mural of Thunberg on the brick exterior wall of a bakery. Balkowitsch took the photo of the teenage climate activist when she visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in October.

Balkowitsch told The Bismarck Tribune he saw the planned mural as a celebration of art, not a dig at oil or coal companies in North Dakota. But after threats of boycotts and possible vandalism appeared when a local station posted a story about the planned mural on social media on Tuesday, Balkowitsch said Wednesday he pulled his application with the city.

“There was no motivation other than install a very important piece of history that was captured here in North Dakota, in Bismarck, but I guess Bismarck doesn’t want it,” Balkowitsch said.

Balkowitsch had secured permission for the mural from the bakery and the building owner. City planning staff had recommended approval, according to city documents. The Renaissance Zone Authority, acting as the Downtown Design Review Committee, was poised to give it final approval Thursday.

“I feel for the bakery,” Balkowitsch said. “I can’t have some business being threatened for my work.”

In a statement, Brick Oven Bakery owners Steven and Sandy Jacobson said they had asked their landlord not to allow use of the building wall for the mural, “after we realized the emotional impact that this photo may cause.”

According to a city staff analysis, the planned mural would have been made from two panels of thin aluminum composite with digitally printed and clear-coated graphics. The panels would have been mounted directly to the wall with decorative screw covers over the fasteners.

At 16, Thunberg was Time magazine’s youngest Person of the Year. Balkowitsch donated his photograph of Thunberg looking into the distance during her visit to Standing Rock in southern North Dakota to the Library of Congress in Washington. The Dakota Access pipeline sparked massive protests near the reservation before it was completed and began moving oil in 2017.

Balkowitsch said he is seeking another venue for the mural, and not necessarily in his hometown of Bismarck.

“I have to rethink everything,” he said.

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