Cornwall Ontario – Cornwall City Council let it’s 36 year old public art gallery die. It’s funding cut off to ZERO with many stating that it was dirty politics because of councilors like David Murphy & Bernadette Clement, along with Carilyne Hebert and Elaine MacDonald who actually broke the law while on its board and resigned when it was about to go public; the community lost it’s only real public art resource.
There were many options to keep it alive, but the city refused each one highlighted by Ms Clement refusing even the tiny bit of leftover Lift Off cash. She cited governance of the gallery, but she didn’t make a single inquiry of the board and the gallery clearly at its presentation to council shared that it had a brand new governance that conformed to current standards. To highlight her hypocrisy Ms Clement had consulted with the gallery’s former executive director and essentially supported the gallery knowingly while it had faulty governance.
The Gallery, as humble as it was, hosted art for kids every Spring and after its last board had taken over and eventually terminated its ED saw a jump in attendance, sales of art, assistance to artists, and hosted three major shows including legends Aislin and Barrie Wentzell. Wentzell was so impressed with the board that he joined it and donated some of his work to help raise funds.
In the two years of its last existence the gallery was run on fumes essentially scraping every last penny it could to survive. At one point it was able to get outside funding to keep it open for at least one more year, but the board came to the conclusion that if the community, via council and business wouldn’t support it then good people from outside should better focus their generosity.
When the gallery closed the city refused to purchase its permanent art collection or take any of the historical artifacts and archives of the gallery. Calls to the Museum went unanswered.
We all want tax dollars spent wisely. It’s important, but as many have noted, a town without art has no soul and there is very little art in Cornwall Ontario.
The gallery only needed $45,000 per year to survive on life support. It only needed about $80K to function at its mandated programing.
Aultsville Theatre was a political creation that gave the City’s former CAO, the disgraced Paul Fitzpatrick (How’s that JP chase going on Fitzy?) a seat on the College’s board. Essentially, for some odd reason the city spent oodles of tax dollars helping to lease the college’s auditorium. It made no sense as there was no ownership position.
City cash paid for upkeep for a facility that essentially offered no free public services. In fact it was cited by many promoters that it was far more expensive to run an event there compared to the Brockville Arts Centre. The parking was also an issue and required payment. It essentially was a fiscal black hole as it is today. There simply is no reason why St. Lawrence College shouldn’t maintain and run its own auditorium including leasing it out as it sees fit.
So now, after their yearly stipend from all of us, most of whom rarely if ever step foot in the place, they have come to council asking for more cash to upgrade their lighting. Again, this is something the college should be paying, but instead this council essentially voted unanimously to give the theatre a $23K interest free loan.
Four members of council voted against the loan expressing that it should have been a grant, but again, why on earth for? Is council in the business of giving out interest free loans? Is there any security on the loan? Nope.
There are lots of needy groups and causes in our community that are going empty with no support from the city and we no longer have an public art gallery.
The bigger question is how could an entire board of an organization, if it’s such a noble cause, simply not raise $23,000 from the community and area? They are a not for profit. There are lots of grant opportunities. There are businesses and some people of wealth in the community? Why not hit up Gerry and Marty Benson and change the name of the theater to the Benson Centre for the arts?
Why come to the public coffers?
This is not good governance; clearly something that Ms Clement and confreres need to learn more about seeing that under their leadership taxes may go up as much as 8% this year because of this sort of fiscal abuse.
It’s not about whether the theatre should survive. It’s simply about the abuse of people who are fighting for their own survival and have no say, other than at election time, about how their tax dollars are being spent.
Isn’t it time to fold Aultsville Theater as an organization and simply let St. Lawrence College manage its facility as it does elsewhere? And isn’t time to stop electing people like Bernadette Clement and David Murphy, and most of the rest of this council who clearly don’t have the common sense to put their petty political machinations to the side when serving the public?
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