Whitehorse councillor questions city spending on art

Whitehorse city council members will vote in two weeks whether to begin a controversial review of their arts funding policy, but a majority say they support the review.

Whitehorse council members will vote in 2 weeks whether to review a city arts funding policy

The Whitehorse Horse sculpted by Daphne Mennell has been cited as an example of city funded artwork that's accessible to the public. (Dave Croft/CBC)

How much should a city spend on public art? That's the question Whitehorse city councillors will grapple with, as they consider opening a review of the city's arts policy. 

The policy requires the city spend one per cent of the cost of new city buildings on artwork.

Council members will vote in two weeks whether to review that policy, but a majority of councillors has already indicated they want the review.

Councillor Dan Boyd moved the motion at Monday night's council meeting, saying that the existing policy is 16 years old and unclear in several areas. According to Boyd, the policy states the money must be spent on artwork for the new building.

Whitehorse Councillor Dan Boyd says the city's art funding policy needs to clarified. (Dave Croft/CBC)

He noted the city will soon be spending tens of millions of dollars on two garages for city buses and heavy equipment, including trucks, and questioned whether it makes sense to spend money on art for buildings not even open to the public.

The city's interpretation is that the policy doesn't forbid using the money in different locations, said Linda Rapp, the manager of Community and Recreation Services.

Boyd also referred to Calgary where he said the city lowers its art contribution on the most expensive buildings.

"One per cent to $50 million and 0.5 per cent thereafter, and they also have about a $5 billion budget," Boyd said.

Public art 'a real tourist draw'

Boyd's motion has raised concern among the city's arts community, however, who fear this may be part of a ploy to lower the city's contribution.

"We think city hall's doing a great job as it is. The policy's fantastic, and we'd like it to stay," said Mary Bradshaw of the Yukon Art Centre.

"We have amazing public art that everyone can enjoy, that's become a real tourist draw as well."

Bradshaw says the one per cent spending requirement is in line with most other Canadian communities, and is lower than Yellowknife's 1.5 per cent.

Bradshaw also disputes the suggestion that most art purchased by the city is only seen by city employees. She points to Daphne Mennell's sculpture "Whitehorse Horse", purchased by the city and installed in a highly-visible location outside the new emergency services building.

"We have this amazing piece that's really become kind of an icon of Whitehorse," she said.

Mayor opposes policy review

Four of the seven council members said Monday they will support the review, agreeing with Boyd the policy needs to be clarified. Most also said they support the principle of designating a percentage of the cost of new buildings to artwork.

Mayor Dan Curtis said the policy works well and questions why it's become an issue now. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Mayor Dan Curtis was one of only two council members who oppose the review. He said the policy works well and questions why it's become an issue now.

"I find it curious that when we finally come to the largest fiscal expenditure the city has ever done [a $35 million operations building], that the artistic community might actually benefit a little, now is the time — not before, not 15 years ago or 13 years ago, or 10 years ago — now that we're on the cusp of having something really significant, now we're going to review it," Curtis said.

Council was to vote on the motion Monday night, but deferred it for two weeks at the request of Councillor Jocelyn Curteanu, who said she needs more information before making her decision.

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