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Council rejects street closure

City council rejected a First Nations Arts Festival’s request for a closure of First Avenue on Monday night.

City council rejected a First Nations Arts Festival’s request for a closure of First Avenue on Monday night.

The 10-day period that the society organizing the event was asking for is too long, most councillors said.

The effect on businesses on Main Street, the Edgewater Hotel in particular, would be too great.

The event was inspired by the success of the Gathering of Northern Nations at the 2007 Canada Winter Games.

It would invite more than 30 artists from across the territory to showcase Yukon First Nation artists and give live presentations and workshops.

The organizers planned to utilize both the Old Firehall and the Arts Underground space.

The Society of Yukon Artists of Native Ancestry was asking council to close First Avenue from Main Street to Elliott Street from June 18 to June 29.

This would allow for a tent to be erected in the street beside the Old Firehall to hold workshops.

 “I can’t support it,” said councillor Dave Austin.

“To affect a longstanding business for 10 days at the time of year — it’s the height of their season — I’m sorry, I just can’t do it.”

Many of the other councillors echoed Austin’s sentiment.

“As a former business owner on Main Street we were faced with repeated road closures year and year after year,” said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“As much as people feel that having the street closed is a boon to business, let me tell you, it is not a boon to business.

“You might as well shut your doors and go home.”

Councillor Jan Stick was the only politician to vote in favour of the proposal.

“I realize that it is a long period for that one block, but we’ve also had the support of the Main Street Society,” she said.

“I just think that it was such an exciting and positive event.”

Stick suggested that the society somehow shorten the road closure to a week rather than 10 days.

“The streets have been blocked off before,” she said.

“I don’t have any problem with this one. I think it’s fine.”

The festival is now looking for a new location for the tent.

“We’re still pretty optimistic,” said Sonny Voyageur, one of the organizers.

“We do want it by the waterfront and we still have a few other options.

“But time is running short so we’ve got to think quickly here”

The Yukon Arts Centre is helping with some of the organization of the festival.

“They’re coming not merely to expose their work, but they’re coming to be teachers and guides to other people who are interested in that form of art,” said executive director Al Cushing.

“What a feather in the cap of Whitehorse.”

The plan is to expand the festival and make it a yearly event, said Voyageur.

“Next year, we’ll definitely have to find a better venue.”