BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A lack of commitment

You get a sense that culture is not a personal priority for Greater Vernon politicians.

You get a sense that culture is not a personal priority for Greater Vernon politicians.

After all, they jumped through hoops to move residents towards a sports complex referendum, but any time talk of an art gallery and museum arises, roadblocks are thrown up.

And that certainly was the case last week when the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee voted to proceed to a spring 2014 referendum to borrow funds for cultural facilities.

Instead of being positive and rallying behind the hard-working folks at the gallery and museum, there was a lot of negativity.

“Until I get more information, I’m not participating,” said director Mike Macnabb, who voted against the motion.

Director Bob Fleming also raised his hand in opposition.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and hasn’t been done,” he said.

Most of their comments surrounded the lack of a firm construction cost, although $17 million has been bandied about. There are also questions about long-term operating expenses.

These are valid concerns obviously and taxpayers’ interests must be considered, but it’s important to know that those committee members agreeing to go to referendum in the spring weren’t signing a blank cheque. Between now and the legislative requirement to establish a firm referendum question, cost details will be firmed up.

There is also still the option that the entire process could be shelved if the politicians aren’t satisfied with the financial picture.

Macnabb and Fleming frequently commented that they have little information about the plans for an art gallery and museum and that the process has been rushed. But that is difficult to accept given the numerous presentations that both groups have given over the years, and particularly in the last year as the reality of their cramped and inadequate quarters become more obvious.

“There’s been 10 years of various options. Ten years or more is not rushing,” said director Rob Sawatzky.

But while a majority of committee members backed going to referendum, they still created some major hurdles for the cultural advocates.

The museum and art gallery will have to come up with $50,000, the difference between holding a stand-alone referendum in the spring and combining a vote with November 2014’s civic election. This action has raised a few eyebrows.

“The sports complex referendum costs were covered by (GVAC),” said Dauna Kennedy Grant, Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director.

GVAC’s explanation is that it determined the timing of the sports complex referendum whereas the museum and art gallery are dictating when they go to the polls, so they should bear any additional expenses.

Fair enough, but GVAC didn’t have to abide by those wishes and directors could have forced the vote to November. Also, the $50,000 will undermine the museum and art gallery’s ability to raise public awareness about the need for new facilities.

More importantly, though, the politicians will be the ones asking taxpayers to borrow funds so they directly own the process. Downloading referendum expenses on to the two groups is a smokescreen and indicates that  official support for culture is on shallow ground.

Given the apparent lack of commitment politically, it’s difficult to know what the final outcome will be.