Is the city truly willing to build a multipurpose arts centre in the city? …This year? …Or the year after? …Or the year after? The proof is in the pudding, says Andrew Harvey.
If you are involved in the arts in St. John’s, you already know about the desperate need for more artist work space. While the booming economy is great for many, it has led to a difficult situation for those who produce things other than fossil fuels.
At the May 5 meeting of St. John’s city council, they took a step towards helping out artists who are struggling to find a place to work. Council voted to approve $33,333 to cost-share with the provincial and federal governments a needs assessment, business plan, and concept design for a multipurpose arts centre. The next step would be to find funding from government or the private sector to fund the construction.
The vote to approve the money was a contentious one. Deputy-Mayor Duff and councillors O’Leary, Hickman, Collins and Galgay voted for the motion and councillors Hann, Colbert and Tilley voted against it. While they all professed their support for the arts, those voting against the motion argued that this was unbudgeted money, and it should be deferred to next year’s budget for consideration.
Councillor-At-Large Tom Hann voted against the motion, stating that it would be fairer to deal with it as a part of the budgetary process:
“Let’s see where it will fall in the list of all the other priorities we have,” he said. “Then we can determine, well… maybe we can do it, start something on it next year, or the year after, or the year after.”
Fellow Councillor-At-Large Sheilagh O’Leary would prefer not to wait for next year, or the year after, or the year after. O’Leary said “the time is now.” She highlighted the importance of funding this initiative, recognizing that it is simply a step towards getting anything built. O’Leary said we shouldn’t wait until next year’s budget, and that “there are potential spaces that could be economically retrofitted right here and now that will slip through our fingers. We have to be very, very expedient on this.”
O’Leary also points to a broader philosophical debate which lies under the surface at city hall. This debate centres around what exactly the city should be funding. Some councillors believe the city’s role should be to support core infrastructure only, and leave others to funding social and cultural programs.
2012 is an assessment year for property owners in St. John’s. With property values continuing to skyrocket, we are sure to see this philosophical debate come to a head. If the 2012 budget will be a pudding, that’s where the proof will be. As Tom Hann says, we will need to see where funding for the arts stacks up against the other priorities of the city. Let’s hope that the arts are indeed a priority, and we see more progress towards a long overdue multipurpose arts centre.