Last week, my fellow Question columnist Nick Davies suggested that community consultation be waived in the case of a proposed new museum/art gallery. I suggest that community consultation is absolutely necessary.
There was a time when I would have agreed wholeheartedly with Nick that supporting a solid proposal for a project that would enhance Whistlerís reputation as a world-class destination should be a slam dunk for mayor and council. However, time and experience has changed my belief that good ideas donít necessarily translate into good projects or good business.
Polygon Homes founder Michael Audain wants to build a facility in Whistler that will house his considerable collection of Aboriginal and First Nations art. Mr. Audain, current chair of the Vancouver Art Gallery Foundation and the Audain Foundation, has donated more than $5 million to supporting fine arts developments. Clearly, he is a committed individual who is willing to put his money where his mouth is.
On paper, the project looks like an excellent one. But it does raise questions, the biggest one being what happens if things go sideways. We have seen when the best intentions have less-than-stellar results. Often this has happened when adding cultural components to the community. Take, for example, Millennium Place. This project was presented as a centre for the arts that would be self-sufficient. Although the building has been in place for more than a decade, self-sufficiency has yet to be achieved. For all intents and purposes, this is the cultural hub of Whistler.
Mr. Audainís proposal is backed up with the promise to endow the facility. While he clearly has the financial resources to do so, this almost seems to good to be true. I am sure I am not the only person in the community who feels this way.
So what to do?
Convince the skeptic in me that this project will not create any financial burden on the community and is actually something that we need. Hold some public consultation meetings and let the community decide, based on hard facts and information, whether or not this new museum/gallery is something that we actually want.
First Nations art and culture is well represented in the community through the Squamish Lilíwat Cultural Centre (SLCC). The SLCC continues to struggle, in part because, three years after the door opened, visitor numbers arenít there yet. This makes me wonder why there isnít a proposal for an ďAudain wingĒ at the SLCC that could increase the centreís appeal. Maybe that option has been investigated, maybe not. I simply donít know enough about the rationale for the new museum to make an informed opinion.
How to ameliorate this? Community consultation.
Public consultation has never been about giving into the demand of a pitchfork-wielding public; itís about sharing information and opinions, asking questions and providing answers. It doesnít have to be a long and arduous process. An effective community consultation process can be achieved in a couple of months, a relatively minor investment when it comes to deciding on a project of this magnitude.
Apparently, time is of the essence for this project, but I also question this. Why is Whistler being forced into making a quick decision? The reason for the speedy execution of this project is probably not sinister at all, but it does tweak my spidey sense.
Itís possible that everyone thinks a free museum built on an unused piece of land is a great idea. Itís also possible that many people have genuine concerns that need to be addressed before endorsing a project that will permanently change our landscape. So letís discuss it.