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Council conflicted on public art policy

After deciding to spend more than $20,000 to repair art bench, councillors debate merits of current policy

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013 06:00 am

PUBLIC ART – Repairs needed for the art bench entitled Blooms has raised questions about the city's public art policy.
PUBLIC ART – Repairs needed for the art bench entitled Blooms has raised questions about the city's public art policy.
Supplied photo

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The councillor who raised questions about forking out an estimated $20,235 to repair a piece of public art thinks there needs to be some policy changes.

“I think there needs to be some revisions of policy to reflect reality,” said Coun. Sheena Hughes.

She pointed out the city’s public art policy calls for public art to be maintained at museum quality – even pieces that are kept outside, like the public art bench Blooms.

“I would like to see this looked at and actually revised to reflect the fact that we’re not storing our pieces in a museum,” Hughes said.

During the council meeting Dec. 2, Hughes was the lone vote against taking money from the public art acquisition, maintenance and restoration fund to do restorative repairs on the bench that usually sits on St. Thomas Street. The repairs, estimated to cost $20,235, are nearly as much as the bench was purchased for in 2001, council heard.

The reserve fund’s balance before the withdrawal is $53,527. Hughes said that just because there is money in reserve to pay for repairs doesn’t necessarily mean it should be used for this project.

“We should be saying ‘We have this money. What’s the best way we can use this money?’” she said.

Coun. Cam MacKay voted in favour of spending the money, but said he only did so because he felt that’s what the policy, and the agreement with the artist, demands.

“I was pretty conflicted on that,” MacKay said. “It’s quite a price to pay and I know we’re going to have to fix that again.”

MacKay agrees with Hughes that some public art policy revision might be practical.

“You can try and push it a little bit but at the end of the day you’d have to change the policy before you could make a good decision,” MacKay said. “I think we should probably take a look at improving this policy.”

Other members of council felt differently.

“Quite frankly I believe one of the reasons that people live in our community is because of the arts,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse. “Public art’s a piece of infrastructure.”

The city would pay to repair a building or sidewalk, Crouse said, so why not a piece of art the city has purchased.

“Public art deserves the same respect as all other infrastructure. Period,” Crouse said.

Coun. Wes Brodhead noted “art is in the eye of the beholder” and maintaining artwork is usually not cheap.

“If the city commits to a piece of artwork ... you need to commit to presenting it in the way that the artist originally intended it to be seen,” Brodhead said.

Coun. Gilles Prefontaine noted the funds came from a restoration fund that’s been put aside for this kind of project.

“We do have a responsibility from our community to make sure that we’re actually maintaining those pieces of art that are entrusted to us,” Prefontaine said.

Some people object to spending on art while others have trouble with the city funding recreation or the library, he pointed out.

Coun. Tim Osborne said he doesn’t want the city to start treating art as disposable.

“We do have a restoration fund,” he said. “This is the first withdrawal we’ve ever made from that reserve.”

That was a factor in his vote to fund the restoration, he said.

“I think what got lost a little bit is we’re not repairing a bench, we’re repairing a piece of art. If we were repairing a bench for $20,000, I would have a problem with that,” he said.

Coun. Cathy Heron said arts is part of St. Albert’s brand. She said while she thought $20,235 was expensive, she has to bow to the advice of experts.

“As long as we have a council policy developed by experts and approved by council and we’re following that policy, I’m OK with it,” Heron said. “My role as a governance officer … is to govern and the way I can govern is through policy. If it fits policy I will approve it and if I don’t agree with the policy then I will change the policy.”


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