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Livening, beautifying downtown Campbell River has to deal with elephant in the room

Homelessness and unpleasant behaviour downtown taints any effort to encourage visitors

Coun. Kermit Dahl addressed the elephant in the room during a discussion about creating public art to encourage people to visit downtown Campbell River.

SEE: Arts groups want to dress up downtown Campbell River with public art

That elephant, of course, is the presence of people living on the streets in the area around the “cultural precinct” of the Art gallery, the library and Tidemark Theatre – the very area being targeted for public art installation.

“I can remember being in Argentina and going on a cultural tour there. And in some of the neighborhoods, bright and colorful and they had banners and really cool stuff to look at. But I remember one neighborhood in Buenos Aires, they wouldn’t even let us get out of a bus because of the the criminal activity in particular neighborhoods,” Coun. Dahl said at an April 26 City of Campbell River Committee of the Whole meeting that included a presentation about creating public art in the downtown core. “So we drove through there looking at it and thought how great it looked, but couldn’t get out of the bus.”

Dahl was responding to a presentation by Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Community Arts Council and program manager for the Museum at Campbell River. Blackburn obtained support for spending up to $40,000 on creating art on the facades of the theatre and library and on the poles of Spirit Square. The art initiatives were seen as a positive development that encouraged and supported tourism as well as the overall appearance of the downtown core, which in turn supports economic development.

Other cities’ efforts on this front around the world were raised as examples and Coun. Dahl said while he also supported the concept having witnessed the same initiatives, in Buenos Aires, for example.

But with the “activity” in the area, particularly the art gallery, he wondered if that would provide any challenges, particularly when you’re trying to draw tourists and residents to the neighbourhood.

“There is an element there that really doesn’t promote tourism,” Dahl said. “Have you had any concerns with that?”

“Absolutely not,” Blackburn replied.

Research has actually shown that revitalization focusing on pride of place actually reduces crime, Blackburn said.

He noted that public art and revitalization is no magic bullet that will solve the problem on its own.

“But every sector can contribute to the solution,” Blackburn said.

Mayor Andy Adams also raised the unsavoury street scene caused by the presence of people experiencing homelessness and dealing with addiction. He raised the example of a recent rally in support of Ukraine that was held at Spirit Square that was disrupted by some of the behaviour from people living on the streets.

“There was some disruption at the event of a couple of the less desirable behaviours in our community, both in the background and surrounding area, which was really unfortunate,” Mayor Adams said.

“And I know that this is an issue that we are continuing to try to address as we don’t have bylaw on the weekends. But we can beautify as much as we want. But we need to go another step further to try to make it a pleasant experience and an inviting place to be.”

This story has been edited.

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