Letter to the Editor

Nay to naysayer I was dismayed to open the paper and see the article regarding our organization, and criticism of a plan for us to participate in…

Nay to naysayer

I was dismayed to open the paper and see the article regarding our organization, and criticism of a plan for us to participate in the new waterfront development.

Not only was I saddened to see your reporter did not contact me first before publishing the article, but also that very inaccurate comments about Yukon Artists @ Work by North End Gallery owner Art Webster were included without challenge in the article.

I would like to take the opportunity to clear up those misstatements and try to clarify the situation.

First of all,  Yukon Artists @ Work is not a co-operative, nor has it ever been. We are a not-for-profit society of artists, who have come together to promote and market our creations.

Webster gives the impression we are a store “just like his” and that we are receiving subsidies and government grants that put him, or would put him, at a disadvantage.

The reality is very different.

First of all, Yukon Artists @ Work has received less than one per cent of its revenue in grants over its two years of operation.

More importantly, the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery is not just another store, as anyone who has visited our gallery or participated in one of our recent events can attest.

In its short two-year history our organization has grown to become a cultural venue. It is a place where Yukon artists can come together, work together and grow together to create a dynamic creative environment for our participating members.

We’re not overstating the case.

Just look at a short list of our accomplishments, besides running a gallery:

• We provide a public workshop space open to artists of all skill levels to use, teach, train, and display their work.

• We have eight studios in our building that are open the public when our members are working, where people can experience first-hand the creative experience.

• We have served as mentors to school groups and young artists.

• Our artists give freely of their time and advice to young and emerging artists — people who someday may approach Webster to sell their wares.

• We have held special creative events to challenge and inspire our members, like our Off The Wall show in October, and we have invested some of our funds to become full members of the Yukon Convention Bureau.

In that capacity, we have opened our shop to visiting dignitaries, bureaucrats, tourism operators, convention officials and special guests, to showcase the talent in our territory.

We have volunteered countless hours to the organization and the community, including charity drives, like the one last year in which our members raised $8,000 for tsunami relief.

We provide opportunities and experience for Yukon musicians, new and established, to perform for the public on our deck on summer weekends and special occasions.

This summer we will be unveiling a sculpture gallery, designed, built and paid for by the artists themselves.

In other words, the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery is a cultural venue, a crucible of talent, and a jewel in the Yukon’s cultural crown.

And that is what Webster would be getting across the street from his shop, should Yukon Artists @ Work members agree to move down to the waterfront.

Yes, Webster is correct that we have a retail store — open full-time for just four months of the year.

Otherwise, we are open on weekends or for special occasions.

And from that retail store, there are not a dozen of our members who earn more than a minimal amount — most not more than $1,000 annually — from sales in the gallery.

And they do that after paying commission, a monthly membership fee and committing to at least 100 hours of volunteer service to the organization (some volunteer for many more hours) a year.

Sound like a regular business? Hardly.

Yukon Artists @ Work gallery’s purpose is to showcase our member’s talents in the best possible venue and light, away from the constraints of a packed-to-the-ceiling gallery.

We are there to showcase talent, not to simply ‘make a buck’.

Rather than competition, our gallery is about co-operation … not only with each other, but also with the rest of the Yukon’s cultural industry (including Webster).

The marginal “profit” of the gallery itself is the means to the end, which is cultural enhancement of the Yukon, not the end of itself; and it is all ploughed back into the organization for further growth and development, not given to the member artists.

What Webster erroneously refer to, then, as “profit” is instead income over expenses, which is then reinvested in Yukon Artists @ Work cultural advocacy.

The overall impression of your article is that Yukon Artists @ Work is a group with its hand out, waiting to get a free, or at least heavily subsidized ride on the waterfront.

However, the reality is negotiations have hardly even begun on this matter, and many members of our group remain somewhat ambivalent about the project.

We have invested heavily in sweat and dollars in our present location, and we have concerns ranging from the amount of volunteer time required for security at a downtown facility that have yet to be addressed.

For Webster to talk about this idea as if it were a fait accompli, and already cutting into his profits, is very premature.

What I think I find most disheartening is the way Webster has seen fit to go about his attack on our group.

Rather than come to us and say, ‘I have concerns, can we discuss them,’ he has chosen instead to put out his distorted view of the situation to the media, and to complain to the societies registrar about our group.

I have sat across from Webster at meetings of arts and cultural groups, and he has been pleasant and cordial face-to-face; it is sad to see him behave this way just a little while later.

If he had been more upfront about his concerns to us in person, I’m sure we could have resolved this.

Ultimately, I fear the consequences of this sort of attack on the big picture — creating a cultural mecca in our downtown.

It’s sad to see a local businessman complain about such an incredible project as what’s being developed on the Whitehorse waterfront.

Any business person, presented with a $30 million arts and cultural centre being built across the street from his arts-based business, should really be doing cartwheels at the opportunity that’s being offered him.

Far from seeing Yukon Artists @ Work as a threat, he should recognize it for what it is, an incredible venue to attract people to our community, to our waterfront, and into his business.

Millions of public dollars are going to be spent across the road from Webster’s business.

It’s striking he doesn’t see that as a subsidy to his business as well. But, I think we have already had a demonstration of the way Webster likes to see things.

He should realize that in criticizing this project, criticizing Yukon Artists @ Work, undermining initiatives to enhance and develop the waterfront, and being a naysayer to the development of our arts and cultural venues, he is only going to hurt himself and other businesses and citizens of this city.

Harreson Tanner, president, Yukon Artists @ Work, Whitehorse

Energy probe

Open letter to Dennis Fentie:

Several days have passed since the majority of Yukon homes and businesses suddenly lost their electrical service for an extended period of time on a bitterly cold day.

A number of people have expressed serious concerns to me about how this emergency situation was handled, especially the lack of information about what was going on and how people could get help if they needed it.

Many of them share my disappointment that there has still been no public comment of any kind from you or any of your cabinet ministers.

During the ice storm of 1998, then-Premier Lucian Bouchard immediately took personal responsibility for keeping the people of Quebec fully informed.

Surely, Yukon people deserve the same kind of leadership from their elected officials.

A spokesperson for the territory’s Emergency Measures Organization has said there will be an evaluation of last Sunday’s events, including what aspects of the emergency response could have been handled better.

An evaluation is certainly warranted, but an internal process is not enough. A similar evaluation of the emergency response to the airplane highjacking scare on September 11, 2001 left many questions unanswered in the minds of Whitehorse residents.

There needs to be a way for people who were directly affected by the recent power outage to voice their concerns and put forward constructive suggestions about how future situations could be handled better.

It is particularly important to hear directly from seniors, people with visual or mobility limitations, people with special medical needs, and single parents of small children, about how the blackout affected them.

On behalf of concerned constituents in my riding and elsewhere, I ask for your assurance that an opportunity for public input will be included in the evaluation of last Sunday’s events.

I would also like your assurance that the results of the evaluation will be made public in full.

Finally, I would like to thank all the public-sector and private-sector workers who put in many long hours to deal with this mid-winter emergency.

Todd Hardy, MLA Whitehorse Centre