BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Culture countdown starts

Greater Vernon politicians need to get moving now instead of dragging their heels.

Ottawa has dangled a cultural carrot but is Greater Vernon ready to latch on?

Last week’s federal budget identified $168 million over two years in new funding for the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund. This is timely as debate about replacing Greater Vernon’s inadequate public art gallery and museum has dragged on for years, partly because of the steep cost facing local taxpayers. Federal bucks would ease some of that burden.

However, while details haven’t been released, one can assume the grant application process will begin soon as the Liberals want to appear to be taking swift action on the economy.

Past history shows that communities successful with senior government grants are those that have vision and projects ready to submit for review.

Now the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee has adopted its cultural master plan, but it’s still not clear when there could be movement on a gallery and museum.

“We want an advisory team formed and that’s where the discussion will occur. Cultural groups want input on facilities,” said Juliette Cunningham, GVAC chairperson, in a recent interview.

What that means is trying to achieve the lofty goal of consensus among competing local interests could drag on as other communities put their hands out for Ottawa’s help. By the time Greater Vernon gets a direction, the cash could be gone.

Instead of a protracted approach, elected officials from Vernon, Coldstream and the electoral areas need to immediately bring together the various cultural groups to discuss the future of amenities. With the art gallery and the museum having waited in the queue the longest and their facilities increasingly challenging, the case can easily be made that they should be the priority in terms of moving ahead.

No matter whether there is agreement or not, the politicians should also immediately expedite the process to ensure there is a design and firm cost for a gallery and museum ready when Ottawa issues the grant applications.

Of course the Vernon Public Art Gallery folks will say there is already a concept and a location. But the 31st Avenue proposal only had the VPAG and a former Vernon council at the table, and not GVAC. The Greater Vernon Museum was an after-thought and only promised an expansion of its current home.

Is there merit to looking at a single site for both the gallery and museum where shared construction and operational costs can create efficiencies and a vibrant destination for locals and tourists? One assumes that installing climate and light controls, necessary for artifact preservation, would be easier in a purpose-built structure than retrofitting the old museum.

One also has to remember that the Coldstream Hotel property was purchased years ago for a cultural complex and a design was drafted by architects in 2005.

But no matter where an art gallery and museum are ultimately located, the reality is that the clock is ticking.

At any point, the federal grant applications could be available and communities across Canada will be scrambling to get a piece of the $168 million.

Greater Vernon politicians need to get moving now for the good of the entire community instead of dragging their heels.