Whitehorse city council punts review of art policy

Whitehorse City Council will wait another two weeks before deciding whether to review the rules around art in city buildings.

Whitehorse City Council will wait another two weeks before deciding whether to review the rules around art in city buildings.

The vote was put off so city staff could gather more information about the current rules.

Current policy says one per cent of construction costs for new public buildings needs to be spent on art.

Coun. Dan Boyd put forward a motion asking to open a review of the policy, which was created in 2000.

That has Yukon artists concerned the city is going to look at cutting money.

“The Yukon Arts Centre feels that opening a policy for discussion … has the potential of allowing the policy to be altered in a way which would negatively impact Whitehorse,” Mary Bradshaw, the arts centre’s gallery director and curator, told council.

The request for a review comes as the city is in the middle of its biggest municipal construction project ever, starting with a new $47-million operations building planned for next year.

Based on that project’s expected cost, the city is estimating it would spend $367,000 on art. Construction costs exclude the price of site servicing, landscaping, furniture, fixture and equipment costs and consulting costs.

At Monday’s council meeting, no one outright called for cutting the city’s one per cent rule, which is on par with most other cities in the country.

But many councillors suggested the city’s 16-year-old policy could potentially use a facelift.

Boyd pointed out some cities have policies that adjust funding depending on the cost of the construction. In Calgary, for example, the city spends one per cent of a building’s budget on art for projects up to $50 million and 0.5 per cent after that, he said.

“They also have over a $5-billion budget,” he said.

Other cities also place money from construction earmarked for art in one central fund. That means the cash can be used on art anywhere in the city, not just inside one specific building, he said.

Norma Felker, the city’s acting manager of legislative services, also suggested some clarifications if the policy is reviewed.

For one, the current rules don’t define “public building.”

All city-owned buildings could be considered public buildings, she said.

“However, it may also be interpreted to mean only those buildings typically open for public access and use.”

If that’s the case, the new municipal operations building might not qualify for any art money since it’s not intended to be open to the public, she said.

The operations building is slated to include departments like transportation, equipment maintenance, engineering, traffic, environmental sustainability, water and waste, as well as some human resources staff.

The vote was delayed so city staff could research whether the current Whitehorse policy allows money from a construction project to be spent on art beyond a specific building.

“The answer to that question would actually determine my answer to this vote,” Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said.

Coun. Betty Irwin said the confusion is one sign that the policy may need to be reviewed.

“All policies do need to be reviewed periodically. At first I was not in favour of this review but … I think it would be a good idea to clarify and perhaps modernize many of the things that are in that policy.”

Even if no one outright mentioned cutting the fund, some on council appeared skeptical of the motivation behind the proposed review.

“I’m concerned that in the current climate that opening this policy up doesn’t bode well for the policy,” said Coun. Roslyn Woodcock.

“I understand, and I’m really happy to hear, that most of the councillors seem to be quite in support of the one per cent (policy), but I worry if we open this up that we’re going to end up with something that we’re not happy with.”

Mayor Dan Curtis pointed out the artistic community isn’t asking that the policy be reviewed.

“Everyone that has weighed in has said they like the policy, that they think it’s working,” he said.

“I find it curious that when we finally come to the largest fiscal expenditure that the City of Whitehorse has ever done, that the artistic community might actually benefit a little bit, now is the time (to review it).”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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