Victoria will have not one, but two Artists in Residence if its draft budget moves ahead as planned.
Councillors recently approved adding an Indigenous Artist in Residence position for the city in 2017 at a cost of $72,000 — $42,000 for artist fees and $30,000 project expenses. The new position would be in addition to the just filled Artist in Residence position, also costing $72,000 ,which was approved last year.
Only Coun. Geoff Young voted against the expenditure during budget deliberations.
“We all hear different things back from citizens, but certainly have been hearing concern that we may be spreading ourselves too thin and really have to focus on significant issues of which there are many,” Young said in an interview.
“I do get concerned [about] becoming a patron of the arts. I’m not really sure that it’s something that we’re necessarily good at, even,” Young said, while admitting approval of the original Artist in Residence budget had slipped by him during last year’s budget deliberations.
But others on council believe, especially in Canada’s 150th-anniversary year, which city council has declared a Year of Reconciliation theme, an Indigenous Artist in Residence is a sound investment.
An Indigenous Artist in Residence “will speak very directly to the work we’ll be undertaking in the next year or two, three, four or five years in response to the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations,” said Coun. Marianne Alto.
Coun. Ben Isitt called it “an appropriate step to take.”
“Indigenous art is a distinct and significant body of art with real cultural significance rooted in this place so I think it’s appropriate to have this position alongside the general artist in residence,” Isitt said.
“Particularly when we talk about some of the projects happening in 2017, I think we’ll get — from a crass economic standpoint — real value for money and a real benefit to the community, but also ensure that projects proceed in a culturally appropriate manner.”
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the expenditure “foolish” and said it’s small expenses such this that can just keep adding up.
“This is the kind of foolishness that gets city councils into a lot of trouble,” Bateman said.
“Last year, you had the Artist in Residence. Then you add the Indigenous Artist in Residence this year. Next year, no doubt, there will be a Youth Artist in Residence. The year after that they’ll discover that women are under-represented and you’ll have a Female Artist in Residence. This can go on and on and on and you get further and further away from what the actual job of City of Victoria is: health and safety issues — water, sewer, parks. Things like that,” he said.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the city would try the position for a year but she would not support an ongoing Indigenous Artist in Residence as well as an Artist in Residence.
“I support this as a one-time expense for 2017 and so too is the first artist in residence a one-time expense. We’ll see if it works. We’ll see if it adds value, then we can assess,” Helps said.
Stan Bartlett, chairman of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, suggested the city might try a taxpayer in residence initiative instead.
“One for retirees, working poor, single moms, seniors, unemployed millennials, disabled, new entrepreneurs and university students. You could pay they guys — eight of them a dollar a year — as taxpayers in residence. They could shadow councillors and maybe encourage a culture of frugality at city hall,” Bartlett said.
Bateman conceded that the expenditure is a tiny piece in a $224-million operating budget.
“It’s easy to let politician wriggle off the hook because it’s a small amount of money. You hear that when politicians give themselves raises: ‘Oh, you could get rid of all of us and you’d only save 100th of one per cent of a budget.’ But these nickels and dimes eventually add up to full dollars and that’s the problem.
“There’s also a focus issue. If you take that money, what are the significant problems facing Victoria today? Well, I don’t think a lack of arts or culture would be in the top 50 in the list of problems,” Bateman said.
As well as Artists in Residence, Victoria also has a poet laureate position which is paid an honorarium of $3,500 plus $1,000 to support library programming activities. The city also has a youth poet laureate who receives a $1,750 honorarium and $1,000 in project funding.