By John Swartz
The City of Orillia finished crafting a budget this week for next year’s spending plan. Once again, the disconnect between elected officials and the arts community popped up on the last day, Tuesday.
There was a proposal to put $20,000 into funding a study to develop an Art In Public Places plan. While the City does have a policy, it mainly deals with procedure when acquiring art and maintaining it. It says little about what art, where it should go, and how to fund it.
The public art committee, managed by the Orillia Museum of Art and History, determined these things need to be answered. While there have been public art projects (three this year) they are one-offs for specific needs and there still is a need to create a program and a plan, maybe in reverse order.
When it came up in debate, councillor Pat Hehn was first to speak, using a line of reasoning which I have used in this space recently, and more than once.
”We don’t say to a lawyer will you please donate your services to the community, or to an accountant or to an architect, we expect to pay for what you get. But we are always saying to artists will you please give us a piece of art and it’s their profession, their livelihood and we can’t expect artists to continually donate their services. We have to pay for what we get, and art is not cheap,” she said.
In the City’s defense, they did spend money this year, and they did spend from the emergency fund to pay musicians and artists for the pedestrian mall. It’s been a long haul, but those things were done without a lot of pushback, and and their own behest.
However, the next speaker, Mason Ainsworth didn’t venture too far from argument heard time and again from councillors.
“I do believe there’s many people in this community whether they are lawyers or other fields that are always willing to donate their time and similar to the discussion we had yesterday about people donating their time to create plans, I think this is prime example of that,” he said.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to utilize those current resources to develop a plan for the future without a cost to the taxpayer. When that plan comes forward we actually will have additional funds. Councillor Hehn talks about paying artists, well now we’re going to have $20,000 extra in the future if we don’t spend it now to actually be able to pay those artists so I think that’s a better use of our funds.”
On one hand, he’s wrong, but on the other he should be congratulated for breaking the mold regarding the attitude for paying artists their fees instead of imploring them to ’think of the community’ and donate their time and product of work.
However, what kind of consultants do you think would be involved with an art plan. Artists maybe? We do have people here who are capable of doing this work, but this group occupying the cellar on the income scale are kind of busy making money. Things work in steps, and they work best that way. Not doing the study leaves everyone standing at the street corner waiting for a light from a broken signal.
Of course getting agreement from artists is not easy. It’s like herding cats. If there are 10 artists in a room, you’ll get 17 opinions and some of them might be about the question at hand. That’s not the jab you think it is (well, a little one) because artists see things most of us don’t, and some of those things they’ve thought about for some time. Consequently they bring perspective the asker of a question didn’t ask, and didn’t understand is relevant.
One thing I’ve learned is to ask around in the arts community, get some ideas, some buy-in to a general idea, then hand off the actual crafting and decision to another body. Otherwise there is real possibility nothing will happen. If anyone is not happy about the result, at least they aren’t unhappy with a neighbor and it’s instead with the consultant and council.
Counicllor Ted Emond mentioned the obvious.
“I’d like to remind my colleagues that the OMAH board is made up of volunteers, and the Art in Public Places is made up of volunteers,” and those volunteers have met and considered at great length the need for a plan that will enable us to spend money legitimately and appropriately. Without that plan we are just throwing money into the pot and not having a strategy, not having a set of criteria, not having the sorts of things we need, and if the volunteers are telling us they need these monies to help them make these decisions, then I think it’s a legitimate use of City funds.”
Point is, people are already giving their time and expertise and this is one thing more to push on them. There is a point where time does not exist in a daybook because it’s all used up. Community volunteers tend to be like that, too much to do, not enough time.
Counicllor Tim Lauer legitimately asked why a committee created for one thing, to administer the existing policy, or the OMAH board which has enough work to do, couldn’t be like the environmental advisory committee, or other committees who have taken on studies in the past. It’s a good question.
In my recollection, over the last couple decades those things did happen, but they also happened because committee members were up to the task and had all the right people sitting at the committee table already. In most cases with committees, the members are interested in the subject, but not always experts, EAC is the one exception. Even EAC has used outside consultants when things got to be too much to do alone.
In this case, there is a lot of research to do. Many cities have exactly this kind of policy, but they are not all the same in every detail. No one wants to reinvent the wheel, but the information still needs to be assembled and someone has to do the work. Funny, 15 years ago Orillia was the place others came to for information because we were one of the first to take arts and culture seriously. That didn’t last long as others caught up and passed by.
Art for outdoors, which could conceivably be the bulk of any City investment, is not the same as art to hang in your living room. It’s a different skillset, even if there is some overlap.
The City did have more than $100,000 left over in the recommended capital tax levy when they were all done rejecting other projects and the usual course is to send it to reserves to put a dent in overspending in the past. Before they did that, one last attempt was made to divert some into a public art reserve account, which exists, but has no balance. That money would be available down the road to do what Ainsworth recommended, pay artists for their art. The effort failed to pass.
* I got a note from the Orillia District and Arts Council saying the Canadian government has expanded funding for performing arts. There will be $181,500,000 for live and digital events. For details visit the Canada Arts Council and Heritage Canada (different programs).
* I changed my calendar today and see time is running out. Galleries in the Arts District are having their annual art sales geared to gift giving. Tiffin’s Creative Center has their Walls of Smalls (work by Catherine Cadieux, Judy Suggg, Jean Sanders, Pat Beecham, Beverly Pearl and Marlene Bulas) all under $100; Peter Street Fine Arts has their 6×6 Christmas show up; Hibernation Arts always has small pieces mixed in with the bigger stuff, but hey, it’s Christmas so expect some themed art; Lee Contemporary has If Only I’d Received Art For Christmas with works by several artists.
* Norm Foster’s The Christmas Tree runs to Sunday at the Opera House. It’s a joint production with Mariposa Arts Theatre and has Gayle Carlyle and John Challis – and Stacey and Doug Ironside on stage (two casts). It’s funny (my review). Get tickets online, audience size is limited and your seats will be separated from others. The bar won’t be open, but you can bring your own drink (coffee, water, but not alcohol) and you can bring a bag of left over Halloween candy or whatever makes you happy.
* Zachary Lucky has two online shows coming up Dec. 6 and 13. The first will be country classics and the second songs from the Canadian Songbook. Both start at 8 p.m. and you can watch them here.
* Streets Alive’s annual Merry Streets Alive Christmas event is not (it appears I left that word out last week) on hiatus this year. The annual get a Christmas ornament painted by artists and a pic taken by Deb Halbot happens Dec. 5 at Eclectic Café from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and Dec. 12 in the Arts District.
* OMAH has the 19th annual Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition downstairs and upstairs it’s an historical look at women’s hockey with She Shoots… She Scores. While the museum is open, you need to make an appointment to browse, call 705-326-2159. You can watch videos at home to pass time away, including one about Franklin Carmichael here. And finally, the QuarARTine auction is still happening with new pieces, which you can view and bid on here.
* The 2nd volume of Mariposa Exposed is out. There are 96 short stories, some by familiar writers and some from people who just have a good story to tell. I’ve enjoyed reading it. You can get a copy at Manticore Books.
* The weekly raffle Dress For Success has been running concluded last week. They raised $5,000 (which mean people won $5,000) to be used to help women without means get clothing they need for job interviews.
(Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Supplied)