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Whitehorse City Council votes to review arts funding policy

After a tight vote Monday, Whitehorse City Council has agreed to review the policy that funds art for city buildings.

After a tight vote Monday, Whitehorse City Council has agreed to review the policy that funds art for city buildings.

It came down to a 4-3 split. Councillors Rob Fendrick, Betty Irwin, Samson Hartland and Dan Boyd voted to review the arts policy while councillors Roslyn Woodcock, Jocelyn Curteanu and Mayor Dan Curtis wanted to maintain the status quo.

The current policy, passed in 2000, says one per cent of the total construction cost of public buildings must be set aside for art.

The possibility of changing that comes as the city prepares to start building its largest capital project next year, starting with a $47-million operations building.

The construction costs for that building would equate to about $367,000 to spend on art if the policy stays the way it is.

Monday’s vote was postponed two weeks ago after one councillor wondered if the money set aside could be used to buy art for any city building.

City staff told council their interpretation of the rules was that the money could be used for any building. But that wasn’t enough to sway all the necessary votes.

Boyd, who originally requested the review, appeared to disagree with city staff’s assessment.

He has maintained that the policy appears to say art has to be used in the operations building.

“My biggest concern remains the language in the policy suggesting that it’s to be invested in the buildings being built, the one per cent,” he said.

“I think that’s the area that begs for clarity.”

Another question is what actually counts as a public building. If it means buildings typically open for public access and use, the operations building might not qualify for any cash, city staff reported last month.

The operations building will serve as a home for the city’s transportation, equipment maintenance, engineering, traffic, environmental sustainability, and water and waste services, as well as some human resources staff.

Community members have written and have come to council meetings, expressing concern that opening the policy for review might lead to the funding being reduced.

“I don’t think there’s anything nefarious here that we need to be worried about,” said Hartland before voting in favour of the review. “I’m part of the arts community, like I said a few weeks ago. I think it’s just good housekeeping and good governance to revisit policies.”

No one on council has suggested that the fund be cut. A one per cent arts fund is about on par with other cities in Canada, council heard last month.

Boyd pointed out that other cities have arts funds that collect money from various construction projects.

“Then there’s a committee that has public representation on it and is set up by council to advise and make recommendations on the investment,” he said.

In voting against the review, Woodcock pointed out that no one in the community has actually asked for the policy to be re-opened.

“My preference would be that it not be rushed, that it not be put on the table immediately. We can happily look at this and review this policy once the building is built.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Curteanu.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have to review this policy. I believe we at some point will need to do that, but right now we have a lot on our plate.”

City manager Christine Smith said a review of the policy would likely take between two and four months. It would include public consultation.

The next city council meeting is on Sept. 6. Smith said she hopes to have a plan for the review ready to present to council by then.

Contact Ashley Joannou at