There’s a severe lack of trust between the Independent Artists Cooperative and St. John’s City Council, and something’s gotta give.
Back in 2002 City Council made a public call for a group interested in converting 2-4 Symes Bridge Road into an artists’ workspace. The IAC was formed and a proposal was made and approved by Council.
Under the agreement, the group would lease the space until the necessary improvements were made to bring it up to code.
The 2002 directive read: “Council accepted your recommendation to lease the above property to the Cooperative for $1.00 per year until the upgrades have been completed, at which time the property will be conveyed to the Cooperative for $1.00 subject to it being used for an arts-related purpose.”
At the time, this arrangement seemed fine to the IAC. And according to the city’s legal department, the directive was a powerful document.
But when the IAC came close to securing $75,000 in funding from Cultural Spaces Canada – a federal arts funding organization – they were told the directive was not legally binding.
They were also told that under a monthly lease, the house was not safe. Even after repairs were made, the city could sell it from under them without a hitch.
When the CSC put a proposal to St. John’s Council to extend a more solid commitment to the project in the form of a donation, it was voted down.
“Unless the city’s commitment is on paper, instead of just in somebody’s memory,” says Pickard, “Federal agencies aren’t going to take us seriously, in terms of the building.”
Now, even if the building repairs are done by the group alone, fear looms that the city could sell the repaired building out from under them.
“The IAC has asked City Councilors directly to address the main issue the contract, and so far they have given no answer,” says Pickard.
“I feel like a rat in a maze,” she says. “Or a hamster in one of those wheels just going round and round.”
To focus public attention on the issue, the IAC are holding a lease tearing up ceremony on the City Hall steps at noon on Tuesday, August 1st. They are asking for the public to offer their support.