ArtSea, which runs the annual Sidney Fine Art Show, stands to benefit from Sidney’s planned withdrawal from the CRD arts service next year. (File)

Sidney reaffirms decision to back out of regional arts service

Mayor wanted a referendum, council says no

When Sidney leaves the Capital Regional District’s Arts Commission next year, not only will local groups not qualify for a pool of $2.4 million in grants, but organizations wanting to perform in Sidney will not qualify either.

Town council reiterated an earlier decision to back out of the CRD Arts Commission on Monday, March 12. They formally asked municipal staff to follow through on giving the CRD notice by June 30 that Sidney would no longer be a part of the Commission as of the 2019 fiscal year. The decision was initially made in June 2017, when the Town was told its share in the Commission would go from $15,000 a year, to approximately $38,000, once a new bylaw was passed this year.

RELATED: Sidney gives conditional approval to membership in CRD arts service.

That bylaw passed recently and Sidney will be on the hook this year for the $38,000 contribution as a Group 2 member of the Commission. Prior to the change, Group 2 members (including Highlands, Metchosin and the Southern Gulf Islands) made voluntary contributions of a minimum of $500. The Town of Sidney had made their membership in the arts service conditional on better provisions on member ability to withdraw included in the new bylaw.

The issue was raised again this week when Mayor Steve Price asked council to consider taking the question of whether Sidney should be part of the Commission to the public, ideally in a referendum question during the civic election this fall. that would essentially leave the decision up to the next council.

He said if the Town backs out, Sidney-based arts groups cannot apply for the pool of grant money available from the CRD — nor can groups who wish to perform in town (such as the Palm Court Light Orchestra) apply for grants to enable them to do so.

That was confirmed by James Lam, manager of the CRD Arts Commission. He said they are aware that Sidney will likely withdraw from the service. The loss of the Town’s $15,000, he said, represents 0.6 per cent of the overall Commission funding pool. Lam added that the bylaw change this month does increase Sidney’s contribution amount to 30 per cent of the total funding level.

“Sidney felt that was too much of an ask,” he said.

Lam said the regional arts service recognizes that performances, shows and more are attended by people from across the region and that municipalities need to look at the service as helping connect and support different arts communities.

Price said that in the wake of ongoing public pressure over transparency on a variety of issues, he felt it was important to find out how residents feel about the arts service and not simply make the decision from the council table.

“We kind of forgot about consulting with the public,” Price said, adding in an email to the PNR later: “Why not ask the public, would you support remaining as a CRD arts service level 2 member at a cost of $5.00 per household per year? Yes or No.”

Councillor Peter Wainwright wondered why Price was pushing this issue for a referendum, when council has made plenty of similar decisions without going to the public.

“I do believe in letting the community speak,” Wainwright said, adding he feels it has to be made clear that the CRD pushed a bylaw through — one that Sidney was specifically objecting to.

“We made it clear to (the CRD) that we didn’t support the increase in budget, because we had a lot of other interests from the community for funding for arts and culture.”

Coun. Barbara Fallot added council feels the local arts community could better use Sidney’s $15,000.

“Sidney’s arts community … deserves to be supported too,” she said, adding there’s nothing stopping Sidney from going back to the CRD, but the current policy is to withdraw.

Coun. Erin Bremner-Mitchell raised a motion to funnel Sidney’s annual payment of $15,000 to ArtSea — Sidney’s community-based arts council. She said council had already made its decision on this last year and now that the CRD bylaw passed, she wanted the money to stay with local arts groups.

Price added the Town is capable of doing both — supporting ArtSea to the tune of $15,000 and being a regional player at an increase of only $3.08 per household. Price, as CRD board chair, had voted against the arts service bylaw change, on direction of his council.

Council, however, didn’t agree with the mayor this week. In a narrow 4-3 vote, his motion to seek a referendum question was defeated.

Bremner-Mitchell’s motion to give the $15,000 to ArtSea, starting in 2019 when Sidney leaves the CRD arts service, passed in a 6-1 vote, Price being the lone dissenting voice.

More arts grants lost

The CRD’s arts service announced two new grant programs on Thurs., March 15 — equity grants for communities at risk of exclusion and incubator grants for arts organizations looking to accelerate their development or enhance their sustainability.

When Sidney formally withdraws from the CRD Arts Commission in 2019, groups based in the municipality would no longer be able to apply for those grants.

While not a formal member of the CRD Arts Commission, the District of North Saanich provides an annual donation in support of regional arts. The District of Central Saanich is not a Commission member.

Current regional arts service members are: Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, View Royal, Highlands, Metchosin, Sidney and the Southern Gulf Islands.

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