Plans for an art feature at the centre of the Rockland Road and Highway 19A roundabout are on hold, and a new design evaluation process will be launched in consultation with the local arts community, after a decision by city council.
The roundabout feature was planned as the cherry-on-top of the city’s three-year Highway 19A upgrade project, now otherwise complete.
In August 2019, four feature concepts designed by McElhanney landscape architects were shortlisted by city council. The city then asked residents to weigh-in on them and received 1,300 votes. Among the designs, a “Tide Pool” concept received the most votes and was selected as the winning theme in March 2020.
But some members of Campbell River’s arts community were frustrated by not being involved in this process. Because of this, Ken Blackburn, Campbell River Arts Council executive director, with support from other community representatives, requested in an Aug. 20 letter to council that the process be put on hold.
The “Tide Pool” design is “pedestrian, bland, weakly composed and absolutely not representative of the thriving arts community of Campbell River,” said Blackburn, in the letter. “It is a poorly thought through engineering add-on.”
In response, Campbell River city council voted on Oct. 18 to put the plans on hold. The motion also directed staff to engage with the Arts Council in a new design process.
Coun. Kermit Dahl said during the meeting he supports putting the project on hold given current economic hardships faced by businesses, families and individuals — a view echoed by Councillors Ron Kerr and Sean Smyth.
“I don’t think this is the appropriate time to be spending large sums of money on something that might look pretty in the middle of the highway,” said Dahl.
But Coun. Colleen Evans, who proposed the motion, said its purpose is to put the funds on hold to allow for a more engaged design process, rather than shelving the project indefinitely and redistributing the funds to other projects.
“To basically exclude the arts community from being engaged in something that could become significant for Campbell River, I think is a missed opportunity,” said Evans.
Coun. Charlie Cornfield said he would stand by city council’s original decision in favour of McElhenney’s design.
“I don’t know why council keeps on reconsidering motions because we get a little bit of flack,” he said.
The decision to restart the process will cost the city time and money, added Cornfield.
City council’s decision to restart the process was welcomed news, said Blackburn, in an interview.
“I think it’s just respectful to the arts community to acknowledge that what we were getting wasn’t really representative of the arts community here,” he said.
The Arts Council hopes to engage with other representatives of the local arts community, including the art gallery, museum, Patrons of the Arts and local First Nations.
“I’d really like to encourage collaboration, with artist teams or even cross-cultural collaboration, but that’s just my own preference,” said Blackburn. “The ambition is that we will have a piece that represents the culture of this community.”