Saanich council has staff to investigate the purchase of First Nations art. But it is not clear how much the piece will cost and where it will eventually appear. (Black Press File).

Heritage status of Saanich’s Municipal Hall could shape eventual location of future First Nations art

Council asked staff to investigate various aspects of installing First Nations art

If Saanich were to install a First Nations art, should it appear inside council chambers or outside of Municipal Hall?

That is one of several questions facing Saanich after council asked staff to investigate various issues around the purchase and installation of a First Nations art piece as first proposed by Coun. Nathalie Chambers.

Her initial notice of motion included more definitive language to purchase and install such a piece, but a number of procedural and practical concerns appeared.

The revised referral motion now asks staff to contact the “appropriate First Nations to develop an appropriate process and funding package for consideration by council.”

Coun. Karen Harper said referring the issue to satisfies her process concerns.

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“I’m in favour of the initiative, and I suspect all of us around this table are,” she said. “I had some process concerns, and the referral motion takes care of many of those process concerns. It will help to have a report coming back, so that we will understand more clearly when the nature of an installation might be, whether in fact it should be inside chambers or outside of the building.”

The central issue concerns Municipal Hall. It received heritage designation in 1991 as “a very significant local example of Modern architecture” after it had officially opened opened its door on Dec. 1, 1965.

Coun. Judy Brownoff said she favoured an exterior installation to improve visibility.

Coun. Zac de Vries, meanwhile favoured an interior location. “That makes a very powerful statement,” he said. Saanich’s recognition of the British monarchy in council chambers represents a “very selective history” and an art piece installed in council chambers “recognize the true history of Saanich,” he said. “I would support both, but I would inclined to support something inside the [council] chamber.”

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Other issues concern the selection process, the cost of the installation and the funding source.

Brownoff said Saanich’s official public art policy requires prior approval from a jury, and chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said staff will also need to consult with First Nations.

Coun. Karen Harper said the pending staff report also promises to address the cost question.

“Particularly given that this is going to be a very difficult year budget with the downloading of MSP premiums through the province and so on, it is good to get as much information as possible, but in a generic sense,” said Harper.

Coun. Colin Plant said the funding could come from Saanich’s strategic initiative fund to avoid higher taxes for residents.

Despite the concerns, Plant also praised Chambers’ initiative.

“Yes, there were some concerns [with the initial motion], but the nugget of this is goodness, and the goodness is to recognize the important relationship that this municipality needs to have with First Nations,” he said.


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