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Art at city hall? New West exhibit program approved

Instead of walls filled with photos of New Westminster’s mayors, work by local artists will grace the corridors of city hall
Art by local artists will adorn the walls outside council chamber that were once filled with photos of all of New Westminster’s mayors. photo Theresa McManus

Local artists will be able to showcase their works in a new exhibition space being created in New Westminster City Hall.

Council has approved the establishment of a city hall community art exhibition program on the second-floor mezzanine of city hall. Art will be displayed on the walls outside the mayor’s office and council chambers (a space that formerly housed photos of all of the city’s mayors), as well as the entire second-floor corridor.

The city will work in partnership with the Arts Council of New Westminster to facilitate and install a rotating exhibition of works by ACNW member organizations and other local artists, said a staff report to council.

“This rotating community exhibit would serve to raise the profile of the city’s local community-based visual arts organizations and local artists, and expand opportunities for New Westminster residents to experience and enjoy art in the community,” said the report.

In November 2021, council approved a motion by then-councillor Mary Trentadue to have staff report back to council and the public art advisory committee with options to re-imagine the space and walls outside council chamber to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

That motion stated the city is working towards “creating a welcoming, inclusive and accepting community that promotes a deep understanding and respect for all cultures” and noted that the city’s arts strategy aims to expand opportunities for the arts in the community.

Now that council has approved the plan, staff will complete an environmental review of the mezzanine walls to determine if there’s any asbestos-containing materials in the walls and will complete any required remediation to ensure the area has a safe hanging surface. The city will also install a hanging rail to support the exhibitions and will prepare a memorandum of understanding with the arts council to outline and define roles and responsibilities.

A staff report stated the cost of purchasing and installing a hanging system and exhibition signage is estimated at $3,000. The cost of testing and abating/remediating the walls is estimated at $5,000.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said the report relates to a decision to remove photographs of all of the city’s mayors, going back to the city’s incorporation, from the walls outside of council chamber. Rather than creating a space to display art in city hall, he said he’d prefer the $8,000 be used to create exhibition spaces in the city.

“While I’d love to, as a city councillor, be able to enjoy that art every time I come here, I think there’s perhaps other opportunities for us to support artists in the community, actually in the neighbourhoods,” he said. “So they don’t have to come to city hall to put up their art, so that they can actually put that throughout the community.”

In a 5-2 vote, council opposed Fontaine’s motion to halt the establishment of the city hall community art exhibition program and to redirect the $8,000 to the city’s community grant program, where it could be made available to support local arts groups’ efforts to display their works throughout our community.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said one of the goals of council’s motion was to make city hall be more welcoming for members of the public, and art will help do that. She said she supports having art everywhere in the community.

“I don’t think city hall should be exempt from that,” she said. “We see a lot of community members come through here, and we want to encourage it.”

Speaking about the photos of mayors that once lined the walls outside the mayor’s office and council chamber, Coun. Ruby Campbell said she thinks it’s really exciting to see different representation at city hall.

“Of all places, that is probably one of the most important places where representation matters,” she said. “Maybe we can have art that represents different communities.”

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said he welcomes the idea of getting art into neighbourhoods, but he doesn’t support not doing this project in order to do that.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said the previous council approved a motion related to making the lobby space outside council chambers more inviting and interesting, but it was left up to staff to explore opportunities on how that was achieved. He said the space will not only provide a new art gallery space in town, but will be a place where the city can promote other gallery spaces in New Westminster.

“There are a number of art galleries in town and this is just one more opportunity for them to reach out and talk about the exhibitions that are happening around town. … I really appreciate the way that staff approached this and brought the arts community in to talk about how they can re-envision that space,” he said.

Nakagawa said there’s been a longstanding conversation in the city around the fact that some folks don’t necessarily feel welcome at city hall.

“It’s not an inviting place. It’s a very functional kind of building,” she said. “So I am excited to have this come forward and seeing some art here, and maybe draw more people in and make them feel … they have a place here at city hall.”

Nakagawa noted she brought forward a motion in January 2020 about creating a welcoming and inclusive New West, and would like to revisit that motion.

While he would have approved a different path for expanding art offerings in the city, Fontaine said he would support the motion.