Director: arts funding model ‘creating divisions’ on board

The Strathcona Regional District will pursue extra funding for arts programs much to the dismay of some directors who have already written the initiative off.

The program is an arts and culture function that each of the district’s electoral and municipal areas would pay into to fund the Tidemark Theatre and other arts programs.

While the majority of the board supports such a fund, most of the electoral area directors do not.

And at the board’s Jan. 13 meeting, Area D Director Brenda Leigh put forward a motion to scrap the arts and culture function from the board’s 2016 work plan.

“I see this as being similar to the proposal for a tourism function which went on for two years of bickering between electoral and municipal interests and it was a complete waste of staff time and directors time and it created division on this board,” Leigh said referring to a regional tourism service that was pursued by the district and went so far as hiring a consultant to put forward tourism models. “I just don’t want to go down those roads of continuing to argue about things.”

Area D Director Gerald Whalley said he also wants no part of such a function.

“If it stays on there, we’re going to spend money on it and as the director (Leigh) pointed out, as far as the electoral directors are concerned – myself included – I have no interest whatsoever in pursuing this,” Whalley said. “I don’t want to be part of it. It’s very similar to the tourism service that we wrestled with. This is just a waste of money.”

But Campbell River Director Michele Babchuk said she was hesitant to remove an item from the work plan that was put on the list for a reason.

“I guess my concern is that (it’s) here because these discussions have already happened, arguments were made, votes were taken and were in favour and put on there,” Babchuk said, while reminding the board that the function is listed as a secondary priority. “They are potential strategic priorities. There’s nothing concrete about them, there’s nothing that’s absolutely going to happen.”

Campbell River Director Colleen Evans said leaving the arts and culture function on the list gives the board a longer-term strategic vision while Gold River Director Brad Unger said he didn’t see the harm in leaving it on as a potential priority.

Leigh, however, argued that such a function was never discussed as a strategic priority and she didn’t agree with “piling it on” the list.

“To put an item on that electoral areas by and large are not going to support, to put staff time into that and create divisions at the board unnecessarily, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Leigh said.

Babchuk disagreed with that assessment.

“I don’t think it’s divisive, I think they’re good conversations,” she said. “And there have been rather large discussions at this table around arts and culture.”

The subject was first brought forward by Kim Emsley-Leik, managing director of the Tidemark, during a presentation to the board last March. She asked the regional district to consider an arts and culture function similar to one the Comox Valley Regional District implemented in January, 2014. Under the function, the Sid Williams Theatre receives $10,000 annually in operating funds and other arts and culture programs receive yearly funding as well.

Quadra Director Jim Abram suggested in December that the regional district take a look at such a function as a way to promote board unity.

But at last week’s board meeting, Abram voiced his support for Leigh’s motion to scrap the secondary list of work plan items, which included the arts and culture function.

“If you look at schedule A, we’re looking five years minimum,” Abram said. “It’s a big agenda for this board and I would support simplifying it with eliminating schedule B.”

In the end, the municipal directors won out and the board voted in favour of keeping the arts and culture function on the work plan. Electoral directors Abram, Leigh and Whalley were opposed while Cortes Island Director Noba Anderson was the lone electoral area director to vote in favour.