In November the Driftwood was encouraged to attend the AGM of the Island Arts Centre Society. It’s not something we would normally do, but when some complaints with ArtSpring’s operation and perceived direction were brought to my attention, it seemed like a not-to-be-missed event.
As various individuals — some of whom identified themselves as “not a member, for a reason” — asked pointed questions, such as “Why is the box office not open on Saturdays when there’s a Saturday evening show?” it felt a bit like the Storming of the Bastille.
Some AGM turbulence was expected by the IACS board. Queries had been made about appropriate public notice of the AGM, which prompted a meeting date change, and voting privileges for new members. The board also made extra efforts to ensure “their people” had renewed their memberships in time for the AGM should a coup of some sort be attempted. Still, many people in the room were likely surprised at the angry tone they heard. I know I was, even with receiving some background information beforehand. I’m not sure it was the best strategy to effect positive change.
ArtSpring has enjoyed a privileged position since it opened back in 1999. Because the building’s construction took a long and painful decade to be realized, it was treated like the miracle of an IVF baby when the doors finally opened.
While people have over the years quietly grumbled about everything from the sound for performers on stage to the gallery lighting, it’s been sacrilegious to make too much of a fuss about anything. Gratitude for ArtSpring’s existence and all the affordable cultural richness it makes possible is justified. It really is a hallowed and much-loved institution.
Detailing the complaints that were aired at the AGM and which had earlier been made in a formal delegation to the IACS directors would take too many pages to elucidate. Let’s sum things up by saying that some on-island performers/show producers who would like to use the ArtSpring space find it too expensive and unwelcoming. New rules have caused some consternation and questions.
There is also a sense that priority is given to the ArtSpring Presents series of visiting performers, although the board notes that three-quarters of the 266 events held in 2014 were performed, sponsored or produced by community members, and grants and other monies received for ArtSpring’s visiting acts more than pay for themselves. The opponents — dubbed “the producers group” — view the numbers and financial situation differently.
To its credit, the board heard a delegation from the producers group at one of its meetings last year, for which appreciation has been expressed, but group members don’t feel the problems have been resolved at all.
So what to make of this situation?
Something I’ve observed after living in this community for 30 years is that discontent about an institution or group doesn’t disappear through repeated positive messaging or putting a stronger lock on the door.
Weeds of bad feeling have a way of pushing up through the most expertly applied cement, and that can have long-term negative implications.
For example, IACS would naturally like to receive more Salt Spring taxpayer funding through the Capital Regional District. As board chair Donald McLennan stated in his report published in the Driftwood last week, Rainbow Road Pool receives $800,000 and the library some $500,000 of annual local tax support (including loan repayment amounts), compared to only $60,000 for ArtSpring (which does not have public, referendum-approved capital debt like the pool and library). It sounds like the planting of a seed for an ArtSpring referendum proposal, doesn’t it? But having an already established band of unhappy campers opposed to one’s operations is a surefire way to lose a referendum. Just ask members of a certain past local fire board.
More public funding also requires more accountability. Certainly, organizations that receive funds from property taxes should have board meetings open to the public and easily accessible minutes. It was a bit alarming to hear at the AGM that it’s not the case with IACS and, anticipating more public funding in the future, the board may want to make the shift to open meetings now rather than later.
Establishing a process or separate committee to keep discussion flowing about community group access to ArtSpring should also be done. That could have been set in motion at the AGM but a proposal from the floor was not accepted.
Some of the people who’ve been lobbying for ArtSpring changes were instrumental in getting the project off the ground way back in the 1980s. The facility may not now exist without them, and they understandably feel real attachment and concern that ArtSpring could tilt more towards being a space for visiting performers to be enjoyed by those who can afford high culture.
In looking at the ArtSpring vision as described on a fundraising brochure from the mid 1990s, I think ArtSpring meets its original stated goal to be: “A community gathering place; a year-round attraction for visitors and residents; a showcase for the visual and creative arts; a showplace for the performing arts; a learning place for our children; a work space for all.”
But at the end of that list was the phrase “Art springs from the heart of a community and needs a home to grow in.” Not losing the community’s heart and maintaining a nurturing home for locally produced arts and culture may be a challenge for the future.
Gail Sjuberg is the editor of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper and Aqua – Gulf Islands Living magazine.