Results of the public art Notice of Motion

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This morning City Council discussed Councillor Peter Demong’s notice of motion that I talked about over the weekend.

I try to back up my words with action if I am able. Yesterday I proposed a call to action and to attend the City Council meeting today.

As a result I attended the meeting in person. I was surprised at how quickly this meeting moved along. I was expecting substantially longer than what it actually took to get to the agenda item I was waiting for. As it turned out, the TV cameras and news reporters barely got there in time for the agenda item.

Councillor Demong placed a revised Notice of Motion onto the table when the agenda item was called.

The revised notice of motion, was for all intents and purposes the same as before. The major change was that the entire final paragraph was removed as seen in the before and after photos below.

DemongNoticeOfMotion2015Feb11

This REMOVED paragraph in the revision (see original above, and revision below), ORIGINALLY contained the following:

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED; that the service provided by the Public Art Board be temporarily suspended until further notice.

Revised_Notice_of_Motion_2015-03 (1024x785)

Councillors that spoke to the revised motion (see photo above), included things like a bizarre story from Councillor Sean Chu who regaled those in attendance with a fabulous tale about his children, ATMs and Mercedes Benz vehicles.

However, relevant points to the topic at hand were brought forward by Councillors Andre Chabot, Dianne Colley-Urquhart and Evan Woolley.

Through the comments made by these three members it was disclosed that other attempts to find cost-cutting measures have been proposed, but not dealt with, at this stage.

Another relevant comment brought forward was a reminder that in 2008, during the last economic set-back, the federal government actually increased funding for infrastructure projects instead of cutting as expected.

The inference was that to debate cuts before the budgets from both provincial and federal governments is a premature action. Not to mention that this notice of motion also unfairly targets a small portion of the city budget and an entire program that has already been allocated during the budget process last November. Allowing this motion to move forward to debate, only opens the door to further cuts to/of other programs individually.

It was discussed that this type of discussion should take place as part of a larger discussion about budgetary cuts and/or increases. The idea that some programs might even need an increase such as was a topic of discussion in a previous agenda item with regards to the Family & Community Support Services (FCCS) Calgary.

This revised notice of motion needed a 2/3 majority to move forward to debate. It was defeated by a vote of 9-5 (those on the losing side being Councillors Demong, Chu, Magliocca, Keating and Stevenson) with Councillor Ward Sutherland being absent for the vote.

As a result the motion did not even make it to the floor for debate.

However, I would suggest that we must remain vigilant.

I leave the final word to former Director of MoCA-Calgary and more recently, the former Artistic Director of Contemporary Calgary, Jeffrey Spalding who earlier today stated the following:

It is just sad that an argument can be floated that suggests that the public needs to be appeased by a symbolic blood-letting: by cutting arts funding. This has never been the effective strategy anywhere in the face of financial downturns. Culture is an economic driver, you need arts to help spur a recovery. The solution during the Great Depression of the 1930s was the WPA (the Works Progress Administration program in the USA. Spending money via the arts was foreseen as a societal good and an aid to their recovery.

…and oh yes, arts jobs are ‘jobs’ too!

Yet another public art situation in Calgary

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Photo above: Councillor Peter Demong inspecting the fine print on his forthcoming Notice of Motion. Here he is checking to make sure that the use of the word “that” is used correctly in the second to last paragraph in his Notice of Motion NM2015-03, while neglecting to look at other large ticket items in the 2015 city budget.

There are days where it is disheartening to be either working in or closely affiliated with the visual arts in Calgary.

The last two days of this past week have been those type of days.

Sometimes, I wonder why I still live in the city and have not decamped for places unknown. An example would be other cities that place a higher value on cultural activities.

I have two stories that I plan to post today. Both are long reads.

This is the first.

There is a proud tradition (unfortunate is probably more like it) of the diaspora of Calgary artists and arts professionals who leave the city to go elsewhere, although that net migration out of the city has been in abeyance during recent years. It may however, begin once again. This opinion piece that was in Calgary’s FastForward Weekly that was published last November entitled Calgary Doesn’t Care About You which sums it up quite well. But I digress.

Yesterday all three newspapers (Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and the Metro) and each of the primary local TV stations with evening news coverage (CBC, CTV and Global) all had stories about a proposal made by Councillor Peter Demong.

Briefly, his proposal is to de-fund all public art projects that are tied to capital and infrastructure projects in the city. In addition to this, Demong’s notice of motion also calls for the termination of the Public Art Board for an indefinite period of time. Also he proposes that any unspent monies to be returned so that it can be reassigned for other capital projects (i.e. roads, transit, buildings, etc.).

This notice of motion is scheduled to be put forward and debated at the next City Council meeting to be held this Monday morning (February 23) at 9:30AM. His proposal will be agenda item 9.1.1.

DemongNoticeOfMotion2015Feb11

Here is the notice of motion (NM2015-03) as seen in the image above, which also has been transcribed in its entirety below:

RE: PUBLIC ART FUNDING

COUNCILLOR PETER DEMONG

WHEREAS the current state of the Alberta economy has been impacted by the low world price for oil

AND WHEREAS the Federal and Provincial Governments have indicated there might be funding delays and shortfalls which may force them to consider restricting funding for capital projects until the economy recovers

AND WHEREAS every day we are informed of more and more corporate cutbacks and employee layoffs;

AND WHEREAS according to the Public Art Policy up to $4 million from any single capital project can be allocated to public art;

AND WHERAS it behooves us as The City to show our citizens some restraint in how we allocate scarce resources in times of economic stress;

AND WHEREAS it is only prudent to conserve capital cash when times of economic uncertainty are apparent;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that all funding intended for public art be suspended for 2015 and any unused portions from previous years be returned for reallocation;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that all funds not expended by public art during this time frame be tabulated and that Administration return to Council with recommendations for projects that could be funded with this revenue;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that Council should review funding status for public art no sooner that (sic) January 2016;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED; that the service provided by the Public Art Board be temporarily suspended until further notice.

In one of the news stories covering this news item, Calgary Metro News “Council to vote on ‘suspending’ public art funds ” fellow Councillor Brian Pincott is quoted as saying:

“This is a yearly assault on the Public Art Program and the assault has been unrelenting through good times and bad times,” he said. “To say now we’re tight on money is facile and simplistic.”

Pincott also said Demong’s motion would amount to “killing” the Public Art Program.

“Let’s not fool ourselves,” he said. “If this passes, it’s not coming back.”

Sadly, this statement is most likely true.

Background information

One only has to look at the evidence that this program has been fighting an uphill battle since it became policy in 2003 after years of community consultation and further community consultation when the program was re-evaluated in 2013 as well. As an example I will only reference recent activity, because I don’t have the time or inclination to go back any further.

In 2012, (see Calgary Herald, 2012 March 24, “How a bridge divided a city” page B1) we find that controversy over the Peace Bridge saw that the public art component connected to the bridge was cancelled. From this same article we have this quote, comparing two infrastructure projects happening at approximately the same time:

Road projects hardly ever got the same pushback, said transportation GM Mac Logan, noting the $70-million price tag for the 4th Street S.E. underpass.

I think it’s just the mindset,” he said. “Fourth Street carries cars. And a delay to a car to sit and wait through two lights is seen as a big deal. But a pedestrian that has to walk an extra kilometre is not important. Weird.”

Later that year after at least a month or two of debate (Calgary Herald, 2012 September 25, “West LRT art faces $3.5M cap” page B3) we read that:

. . . managers never set aside the funding in the west LRT budget, (and) transportation officials have pulled together $3.5 million in public art money from other projects for the LRT’s beautification.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Someone supposedly FORGOT to include an automatic 1% budget line into a major infrastructure project. Not that the 1% for public art has EVER been fully used. But I digress.

Then in December 2013, a result of the Giant Blue Ring project being installed near Airport and Deerfoot Trails around election time (fall 2013) the public art budget was put up for further discussion again. The proposal was to cut the budget. After six months of going through the process, the Calgary Herald (2014 May 27, “Council criticized for trimming art budget” page A6) once again reported:

Calgary’s new public art policy will cut $188,000 out of the roughly $5-million annual art budget, though councillors came close to stripping even more from the controversial beautification program.

The revised policy provides one per cent of budgets for art for projects up to $50 million, and half a percentage point for any expenses above that level. Chu, wary of spending tax dollars on art, proposed the threshold at $25 million.

So yes, Councillor Brian Pincott is absolutely correct – this IS a yearly assault on the Public Art Program, through good times and bad.

* * *

Now for my editorial on the public art issue.

The whole concept of cutting visual arts, public art, the creative industries and innovation is incredibly short-sighted and misinformed.

I am not alone. As stated in the Globe and Mail, Calgary’s Todd Hirsch wrote:

We have to stop thinking about arts and culture as simply nice-to-haves. They are just as important as well-maintained roads and bridges. By giving us the chance to stimulate our minds with new ideas and experiences, they give us the opportunity to become more creative. Arts and culture are infrastructure for the mind.

The world has changed. No longer is the North American economy driven by manufacturing. Increasingly, as a general population, we are increasingly working in knowledge-based, creative and/or service industries.

Ironically, art making is still involves the manufacturing process. As any standard economic text will state, it is manufacturing which is the true wealth creator. It is through manufacturing that economic value is created from raw materials and value add is provided. As very good example of this, the Blue Ring involved a significant local manufacturing component, in fact it can be stated with a fair bit of certainty that a significant portion of the expenditure for this work stayed in the local community. This reality, is contrary to the fabricated claims made by the trolls who populate comment boards on newspaper stories that still have nothing better to do than talk negatively about this piece two years later.

Here are a few reasons why this Notice of Motion is short-sighted

As the saying goes, “no one ever visited Paris, to see the parking garages”. Travel is an important business, especially with visitors from around the world who pass through our city every day en route to the scenic beauty of the nearby Rocky Mountains and the panoramic views just a short distance away.

A significant amount of travellers do engage in what is known as “cultural tourism.” A recent study (November 2012) commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council found the following results:

  • tourists who participated in arts and culture activities represent over one fifth of the 42.8 million overnight trips to Ontario in 2010 (22%)
  • Arts and culture tourists outspent typical overnight tourists in Ontario at a rate of almost two-to-one. On average, they spent $667.00 per trip in Ontario, compared to $374.00 spent by the typical overnight tourist.
  • At $1.7 billion in taxes, all levels of government benefited from spending by arts and culture tourists in Ontario during 2010. Of the $1.7 billion, approximately $1.0 billion were federal government taxes, a further $0.7 billion were provincial taxes and $11.0 million were municipal taxes.

Cutting funding to this important segment of the tourist market would appear to be one of ignorance of the facts shown above.

In the 2013 Otis Report on the Creative Economy – a study of economic impact of the creative community in California (the new report will be released in the next couple weeks) we find key findings, such as:

  • In the Los Angeles/Orange County region during 2012, the creative industries accounted for 10.4% of the gross regional product (or an economic contribution of $80-billion). The creative industries had a total impact of $140-billion of economic activity and tax revenues of $6.9-billion.
  • 1 in 7 (13.8%) of all workers (direct, indirect and induced) are employed in the creative industries in Los Angeles/Orange County; and 9.7% are employed in the creative industries in the state of California.

As seen, there is a lot of potential here.

I could go on about the local economy, but I know that the Calgary Economic Authority has done a 97-page study about this issue in 2010. As a City Councillor, this study should be on your bookshelf for reference. If you haven’t read it, I would suggest reading Richard White’s synopsis in the Calgary Herald seen here.

Public art serves an important function.

It is NOT a luxury.

It feeds our souls. In times of economic hardship and difficulties, art is what helps bring meaning and a reminder that there is beauty in spite of all the ugliness that surrounds us.

It is okay if you don’t get it, or it is not your thing. Not everyone is going to like the same type of art. That is the beauty of it. One person likes western art with cowboys riding horses and the next person likes non-representational art and the next likes new media art or sculpture. I have worked in the business for over a decade and have visited hundreds of people’s homes and offices to view (and sometimes install) art since I began working in the field long, long ago – back when dinosaurs still ruled the earth.

Is one person’s aesthetic better than the next?

Maybe, maybe not.

Either way, on a strictly personal level, if the person who lives with the work, actually likes it, and it gives them pleasure – what does it matter?

However, as the analogy goes, why would someone purchase a home and not bother to plant any flowers or plants in the garden?

* * *

My action item for the reader.

I would like to see the Council Chambers filled with supporters of the Public Art Program this Monday morning. I would like to see something like what was done when the Public Art Policy was presented to City Council in the spring of 2013, just before the flood.

If you can’t make it, then at least contact your Councillor and let them know how you feel. Calgary Arts Development Authority yesterday published a letter that the CADA Board Chair, Dean Prodon, wrote to members of the City Council. It is available here. You can use this letter as a template to let them know your feelings about this Notice of Motion.

Postscript edit: (2015 February 22 @16:36)

I see that my proposal that I first made on someone’s facebook posting a few days ago, is now gaining traction. I just received notice that ArtsVote YYC has just issued a call to action. They also want to do the same thing as I have proposed. Here is their call to action.

Finally, the last word comes from the Giant Blue Ring itself!! (2015 February 22 @23:07)

Giant_Blue_Ring_Comments_2015_Feb_22

Reminder. Election date is tomorrow.

JohnLordComment1

We have just over a day before the polls open for the municipal election.

Being an arts based blog we are interested in the arts and providing the support that the arts need to survive and thrive.

Fortunately, we have had lots of opportunity to discuss the arts in Calgary during this election campaign.  Not all campaigns are this fortunate.  Most notably it is because of the big blue ring which happened to be installed near the airport right in the middle of the campaign.  It also got good coverage from all news outlets, both positive and negative, including a number of front page stories.

We very much like the fact that people are talking about art whether they like it or not.

We are also of the opinion that in the arts, all publicity is good.  There is no bad publicity – only opinions that are uneducated or ignorant (as in, lacking knowledge or awareness in general).  These opinions serve to remind us that there is always more work to be done in educating the population at large about how important culture is to the integral fabric of any society, whether historically or contemporary.

With that in mind, a friend of the blog drew attention to one the mayoral candidates (Jon Lord’s) comments on public art which he posted to his personal facebook page, about a week ago.  It is posted above and seemingly provides his personal guidance on how much support should be provided to public art in Calgary and what form it should take (more or less).

He indicated which community a mural by Daniel Weisgerber is located in to support his comments.  Using google maps and a bit of investigative research and sleuthing we were able to see what $800 will get for public art.  Here is the image (or at least the image we suspect is the most likely possibility).

DanielWeisgerberMural

Sadly, the image quality is not very good, so it is somewhat hard to tell exactly what it looks like and we don’t know what type of work the artist does, although it would seem to be a landscape-based composition with grain elevators(?).  Because we have scale based on a vehicle, a doorway, and a person walking down the street, we can guesstimate it is probably around eight feet square and we will use that measurement for our purposes.

The mural is 64 square feet in size, which works out to $12.50 a square foot (all in).  Doing a quick online search we found a local commercial indoor painter that charges $2.00/sq. ft. (labour only).  Whether that is on the low end or the high end, we don’t know, but will assume the lower end as the term “value” was part of the company name.

In the spirit of education, and to speak to that, let’s see what that $800 gets:

  • The commercial interior house painter using the numbers above would charge $128 (plus paint).  Because it is such a small area to be covered, they probably have a base-line minimal charge just to show up on site which covers set-up and take-down, materials, travel and the minimal three hours to pay their employees – so let’s say $250 as a result.
  • An important consideration is that the mural is located outside and would require more work to prepare than inside.
  • The other consideration is the quality of paints.  Artist paints are not inexpensive, and house paint is very cheap by comparison.
  • Then you must consider that the muralist paints to create an image with a brush which involves blending, composition, planning and probably research and preliminary sketches to get the image that is satisfactory to the client; whereas the commercial interior painter simply uses a roller to cover a wall typically using the one colour the client wants, without detail or shading.
  • Commercial painters have a reasonable expectation to have a job most days if their pricing or skills are competitive and they want to work.  Muralists will not have the same demand for their services and it would be sporadic at best, so pricing typically would be higher as a result.

Just a personal observation, based on that alone, it would seem that whomever commissioned this mural probably did not pay enough or the artist did not charge enough.  Nonetheless, it is a moot point.

________________ |_| ________________

There is still time to ask your candidates what their positions are on the issues that matter to you.  Check your candidate’s platforms to see where they stand on things like the arts.  Also be aware of the resources available as some organizations will ask the candidates questions on your behalf.

In this context, it is a proper time to mention ArtsVote Calgary.  They ask all candidates (Mayor, Councillor, public and separate school trustees) common questions with an arts focus.  Not all candidates have responded – Jon Lord being one of them (and for this reason alone, why his comments were included above and discussed).

The questions asked by ArtsVote Calgary of all candidates is as follows:

  1. 1.     If elected, what are some steps that you will take to address the following issues currently affecting the arts in Calgary?
    1. a.     Live arts performances, art exhibitions, and public art displays are largely concentrated in the inner-city and may not be accessible by all Calgarians.
    2. b.     Many young Canadian artists are attracted to life and careers in other municipalities, in part because of the high cost of living of Calgary and lack of affordable housing.
  2. 2.     When travelling as an elected representative or hosting out-of-town visitors, how would you promote the arts scene in Calgary? How would you describe the strengths of Calgary’s arts community?
  3. 3.     How do you engage in, participate in and/or support the arts in Calgary? Please feel free to share an experience in the city at large or in your own constituency.

The results are posted in links provided on this page http://artsvotecalgary.ca/municipal-survey-responses

On a unrelated side note, there is also an excellent overview of the politics in this election.  It is a long read, but gives very interesting and balanced analysis about the Manning Centre/Nenshi dynamic.  Review it here http://brianfsingh.com/2013/10/20/calgarys-civic-election-of-2013-why-did-manning-get-involved/

Please take the time to review.

Get out and vote.

Make your voice heard.