The City of Burnaby cares about art, according to Mayor Derek Corrigan – despite the city rejecting calls for a new gallery for more than three decades.
At Monday night’s meeting, council passed a staff report that does not support a new exhibition space as requested by the Burnaby Arts Council.
The organization has long argued the city’s current gallery facilities – the arts council’s Deer Lake Gallery and the city-run Burnaby Art Gallery at Ceperley House – are too small and not in a SkyTrain-friendly location.
But having an artistic community isn’t just about building four walls – it’s about making it accessible to people in their everyday lives, Corrigan said. He pointed to the free annual Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert in Deer Lake Park, the city’s eco-sculpture program, the Beresford Art Walk planned for Metrotown and the Burnaby Village Museum.
“Burnaby Village Museum is taxpayer-supported and it’s free. It is one of the top 10 attractions in the Lower Mainland. That is something to be very proud of. It shows by doing things like that we fulfil a very important role – we create a museum that is accessible to everyone,” said the mayor.
“It’s very important for us to continue to do that, to ensure art isn’t put simply into a building where people have to go and find it. ... I think that sometimes we forget how much is being done on a daily basis to ensure that the arts are part of what Burnaby does.”
With a new $350-million art gallery in the works in the City of Vancouver, Corrigan said competing with a neighbouring facility that is 20 minutes by SkyTrain would be “impossible.”
“The reality is it would always be something less; it would always be something small; it would always be something that really couldn’t draw the kind of audiences that are going to a facility like the one planned for Vancouver.”
City staff looked at the arts council’s proposal “seriously,” Corrigan added.
“In the long run, I believe the best choice we could make is try and get that events centre,” he said of a new events and performance centre planned for Metrotown. “(It) would allow us to be able to host events that we can contemplate are appropriate for our size as opposed to having aspirations to construct a building that could very well end up a white elephant for us, something that we’re unable to sustain and we’re unable to look after.”
The staff report states a new art gallery does not fall within established city policies, including the city’s 1990 arts policy, social sustainability strategy and economic development strategy.
Burnaby Arts Council president David Handelman and members Maria Parolin and Mike Suk appeared before council on Monday night to discuss the report. Parolin was cut off at the 10-minute mark, and she and Suk couldn’t finish their part of the presentation, which concluded by asking council to form a committee to look at the arts policy and update it.
“Give them five more (minutes),” yelled someone from the crowd. “We’re the people, not you.”
Corrigan moved on to the next delegation and about 15 people from the arts council got up and left the chambers.
“We’re devastated,” Parolin told the NOW after. “It’s hard to know that your city wants nothing to do with culture.”
Handelman noted the last time he presented on the issue, he was given 30 minutes.
“I’m not sure what to say. I wasn’t expecting to be cut off so quickly. I’m disappointed. I would have thought if there was a major concern about the time, we would have been told to get right to the finish. We could have done that,” he said.