Candidates asked to set out vision for Yellowknife’s arts future
Candidates for Yellowknife’s city council faced a series of questions about the arts on Thursday at a forum hosted by the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre.
Sarah Swan, director of the group, said that while the arts may not be the most important issue facing the city, the sector remains “a hugely important part of having a healthy and vibrant community.”
The forum took place two weeks after the current council approved the city’s arts and culture master plan, which formed the basis of questions asked on Thursday.
The first question asked candidates which recommendations within that master plan they would prioritize and advocate for during budget deliberations in December.
Garett Cochrane responded by discussing the importance of an arts and cultural officer, a position Yellowknife artists say is needed. A full-time officer is included in the plan and will appear in the city’s draft budget for the year ahead.
“I think advocating for a position like that, that would actually be able to take a lead in organizing our arts community and that would be able to assist [artists to] access grants and other programs, is a position that should be prioritized,” Cochrane said.
“Whether or not it will be created as a new [position] or we expand the scope of the special events coordinator is what I’m thinking we can open ourselves up to.”
While many candidates agreed, some were not as keen on the idea.
John Fredericks, supportive of the position in principle, also acknowledged the difficulties councillors will face in drawing up the next city budget at a time when inflation is high.
“We have a tough job ahead of us because we have to balance the budget, [and] we’re also going to have to admit that we can’t do everything at once,” Fredericks said.
Ben Hendriksen said that with budget restraints and lack of staff, he would prioritize an art space rather than a staff member. With the amount of money available, Dwayne Simmons said, grants may be a better use of cash than staff.
“I think it’s going to be more of a priority for the city to support them through tax abatements and accessing grants,” he said of the arts community.
Simmons said that if the choice is between supporting the city’s municipal enforcement division and creating an arts position, he was likely to prioritize the former.
Candidates were next asked how arts and culture initiatives can help Yellowknife in other areas.
Stacie Arden Smith discussed the city’s plan for reconciliation, acknowledging the connection art can create between people and trauma.
Art, she said, is often the preferred way for Indigenous people to express themselves.
“We have Indigenous people living on the streets that have such great talents, but they’re not tapped into,” she said, “and this is a way for them to go to a space where they can take their anger, or sadness, or whatever they’re feeling because of residential schools, and really hone their craft.”
Many candidates agreed arts and culture initiatives would be beneficial to downtown revitalization.
Steve Payne said investing in local artists keeps money in the community: “It’s local money, it’s going to pay for kids’ hockey, it’s going to pay for kids’ art classes.
“The money is being spent right here. Kids are growing up and they’re seeing these beautiful art pieces throughout our community, and it’s keeping downtown vibrant.”
The final question asked candidates what solutions they believe will provide affordable spaces for Yellowknife arts.
Many candidates discussed the possibility of turning the old Ruth Inch Memorial Pool – which is being replaced by a new aquatic centre – into a multi-use space, including a library and an art gallery.
Most agreed the old pool is a large-enough space to host an artist-in-residence program, a commercial art gallery, and workspaces for local artists.