Campbell River municipal candidates re-affirm importance of the arts

The first all-candidates meeting of the election season took place at the Rivercity Stage Saturday night, focused on how arts and heritage fit into the candidates’ plans for Campbell River’s future.

Six of the nine candidates for city council attended as did Mayor Andy Adams, who is running unopposed. Ron Kerr, Kermit Dahl and Allan Buxton were unable to attend.

Despite not needing to campaign, Adams said it is important that he attend these forums “to learn more about the people who will be on the team I’ll be working alongside after the election.”

The evening began with moderator Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Arts council, welcoming the 70 or so members of the public and the candidates who attended and introducing the panel of representatives from the arts and heritage community who led the night’s questioning.

Sandra Parrish of the Museum at Campbell River, Vicky Chainey-Gagnon of the art gallery, Jim Kent of the Tidemark Theatre and Jim Creighton, who manages Spirit Square each had prepared questions for the candidates, which were interspersed throughout the night with questions from the crowd.

Chainey-Gagnon, for example, asked the candidates where they see arts and heritage fitting into the city’s Sustainable Official Community Plan (SOCP) – the long-term vision for the community.

“It’s a very forward looking vision and it’s long-term,” said Colleen Evans, but added that while “there are a number of themes that weave their way through that document, what I would like to see is for us to put a more focused lens on art, culture and heritage throughout that document, because while I think the intent is to embrace those things within the SOCP, I don’t think it’s as clearly articulated as we should have it.”

While newcomer Daniel Franklin admitted numerous times throughout the night that he is well behind the curve when it comes to his knowledge about specific policies at City Hall, he was clearly eager to learn the ins and outs. In regards to the implementation of the SOCP, he said, it’s important to him that future councils keep in mind that “while it’s a 50-year plan, it’s also a living document, so it can be changed and altered.” While long-term planning is important, Franklin says, it’s also important to make alterations to it when necessary.

Jim Creighton wanted to know what the candidates see in terms of the future of Spirit Square and entertainment initiatives downtown, such as the CR Live Streets program. He would like to see a new stage built in that location, as well as infrastructure put in place that would allow for food trucks and other amenities.

“Do you have any thoughts on the continuance of those two programs, and as far as capital improvements go, I’d like to make a push for Spirit Square, which is in dire need of an all-weather stage that doesn’t face the southeast,” Creighton says. “Also, Shoppers Row and the cultural precinct both require the installation of electrical wiring and other infrastructure for things like food trucks. Thoughts?”

Michele Babchuk agreed whole-heartedly with Creighton that more focus needs to be put on bring arts events to the downtown core and improving the ones that are already happening.

“I’ve very proud of what this council has been able to achieve in our downtown core for arts and culture – for the businesses that are down there and the new people that are living down there and it’s brought that area back to life,” Babchuk said. “This summer was absolutely fantastic down there. I can say for certain that I will be advocating to make sure that Live Streets, Spirit Square and any infrastructure that’s needed – including for food trucks – will be given huge consideration going forward.”

Charlie Cornfield said he had no intention of continuing those programs.

“Continuance, Jim? No,” Cornfield said. “Expansion, growth? Absolutely. The programs are working really well and they’ve set a good bar, but I think we can do more.”

Overall, all the candidates present that night agreed that arts, culture and heritage are an integral part of a healthy, vibrant community and need more attention from City Hall.

“We set out to try to have a discussion and a forum to listen and to learn,” Blackburn said after the event, “and I think we saw tonight that the candidates understand the importance of not only the arts in the community but also the not-for-profit sector and what we all do. Traditionally, in years past, arts and culture has been seen as somewhat of a frill rather that being seen as a central aspect of how you create a quality of life in a community, but it seems that is finally changing.”