BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A cultural conundrum

Fiscal prudence, especially when tax dollars are involved, is admirable

Fiscal prudence, especially when tax dollars are involved, is admirable. It’s something we should expect of our elected officials.

But sometimes such apparent loyalty to the bottom line can actually be a hindrance. Politicians can halt initiatives that are actually best for their community in the long-term.

And that appears to be the case as the directors for BX-Swan Lake and BX-Silver Star continue to debate whether their areas will participate in a proposed service that would see a new art gallery and museum constructed in Greater Vernon.

“The art gallery is looking to expand by three fold, going from 6,000 square feet to almost 18,000. The museum is looking to almost double their space from 12,000 to 30,000 square feet, and in both cases, those are proposals that haven’t been reviewed by anybody here at this table,” Bob Fleming, BX-Swan Lake director, told Kiss FM.

Yes, the museum and the art gallery want larger facilities (to the tune of about $17.9 million). That fact has been making headlines for years as the current buildings are inadequate and the community’s cultural assets are at risk.

In terms of the proposals not being reviewed by anyone at the (Greater Vernon Advisory Committee) table, perhaps Fleming was absent during the numerous presentations where museum and gallery officials stated their case. GVAC staff have also had discussions with the cultural groups and there have been numerous presentations to the City of Vernon.

Also speaking to Kiss FM, Mike Macnabb, the BX-Silver Star director, said, ““Right now we’re looking at an increase in operating budget for $250,000 on top of what we currently pay, and it’s starting to get a little rich. We would want to make sure before going ahead with this, that we’re not getting tied to a white elephant.”

And most taxpayers, including those involved with the gallery and museum, will agree with Macnabb. Nobody wants to see a spiralling operating deficit but public amenities rarely break even, let alone make money. Pools, arenas, seniors programs and libraries exist because they add to the livability of the community. There isn’t a bottomless pit of cash, but taxpayer subsidies are a fact of life.

This was an argument both Macnabb and Fleming made when asking constituents to borrow funds for the sports track next to Okanagan College.

Now to listen to Macnabb and Fleming, you’d think the Greater Vernon Museum and Vernon Pubic Art Gallery have been operating in isolation. But as mentioned before, there has been considerable back and forth with GVAC and the groups’ figures will be reviewed by a consultant. Once that is done, GVAC politicians will have the final say. If the scope of the projects are deemed to be too rich, they can be scaled back just like the officials did with the sports complex. Only once the politicians are satisfied with the cost will the referendum process proceed.

So Macnabb and Fleming will have a chance to pull a plug on participating in the function.

But before they make that decision, hopefully they will consider the interests of their constituents. And for many of them, their lives are nourished by the arts. They visit the museum and art gallery or volunteer countless hours at the institutions. Students from the BX benefit from the agencies’ outreach programs.

All of that could be at risk if Macnabb and Fleming opt out and leave Vernon and Coldstream holding the financial bag. Would BX residents be barred from accessing services or would there be a special fee for them?

In the end, Macnabb and Fleming must continue to scrutinize all costs, just as their Coldstream and Vernon counterparts have been doing. But sitting on the sidelines could ultimately leave their residents paying the price.


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