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Art bench restoration raises questions at council

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 07, 2013 06:00 am

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A request to fund the restoration of St. Albert’s public art bench Blooms underwent some scrutiny on Monday night.

A motion to fund the restoration – estimated to cost over $20,000 – was eventually passed by council, but not before Coun. Sheena Hughes sparked extensive questioning on the project by council.

Hughes set off the questions by asking that the motion be pulled off of council’s consent agenda for the evening. Then, she and some other councillors wondered about the wisdom of paying $20,235 to restore a bench, an amount that nears what the city paid for the artwork in the first place.

Blooms was installed in 2001 and normally is on St. Thomas Street. It has been put into storage thanks to cracking concrete on the seat, as well as pitting, rusting and other deterioration. The proposal was a new concrete base be made and the original artist retained to restore the painted flowers.

Hughes asked about simply replacing it with a normal bench, or spending the money on a different bench by an artist whose work doesn’t cost as much, as council heard an equivalent piece of art from the same artist would likely be double the price of what was paid in 2001.

“It’s a really uncomfortable bench, I’ve sat on it,” Hughes said.

Hughes questioned why different materials weren’t used, future maintenance, possible storage options and liabilities that others might have towards repair cost. She wanted to know about liabilities because water run off from booths set up during the summer farmers’ market was indicated in photos, possibly contributing to rusting. Hughes wanted to know if the chamber of commerce might be partially liable.

Staff weren’t sure about the liability issue but did say that the materials used to create the bench were the best available at the time, while more durable materials are available now.

Coun. Cathy Heron noted the cost seemed high, and asked if the Public Art Advisory Committee considered commissioning a new piece.

Kelly Jerrott, cultural services director, said the recommendation from that committee to restore rather than purchase a new art piece was based on an art conservator’s assessment that restoration was possible.

Councillors were told that it’s part of the agreement with the artist to maintain the artistic integrity of the piece.

Other questions from council included inquiries about the public art acquisition, maintenance and restoration fund and the city’s apparent responsibility to maintain the art instead of let it degrade.

“We’re not restoring a bench. We’re restoring a piece of art. And that’s different,” said Coun. Tim Osborne, making the motion to take the money from the public art acquisition, maintenance and restoration fund for the repair work. “I don’t want to see us become a community embracing disposable art.”

Coun. Cam MacKay noted some of Hughes’ points raised good questions about public art in St. Albert and suggested there should be some policy work on the topic in the future, a suggestion Mayor Nolan Crouse asked the city manager to review.

The motion to withdraw $20,235 from the fund to restore the bench was passed by a vote of 6-1, with Hughes the sole vote against the motion.


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