Foreign art disturbs councillor

A decision to award a prestigious art project to an American artist has gotten under the skin of one Kelowna City Councillor.

Mohini Singh took exception when council was informed Monday that Seattle, WA artist Susan Zocolla has been commissioned to produce the public art component for the soon-to-be expanded Library Parkade.

"This really bothers me and I have spoken to council before about it. Earlier I used to be a big proponent of keeping the artists Okanagan - fine, I shouldn't be so narrow minded, so then it was British Columbian, alright then Western Canadian, alright forget that, how about just a Canadian artist then?" asked Singh.

"This is a premier job - do we have to go south of the border to get an artist?"

City Manager, Ron Mattiussi, says many of Kelowna's practices are such that you can't restrict where bids on projects come from.

"Even if you could, that's not to say you should," says Mattiussi. 

"Our artists sell their art in the United States and England. If we were all protectionists and we all said that then even our own artists would not necessarily be exposed to the rest of the world."

Pat McCormick, the city's urban design planner specialist, says a majority of pieces in the city's art collection are Canadian with over half of them from local artists.

"We didn't purposely seek out an American artist. I don't know if the purchasing would allow us not to go international," says McCormick.

"I think what we are trying to do is get the best artwork for the money that's available. In the estimation of those doing the adjudication, this was it."

McCormick says having art pieces from around the world only adds to the collection's prestige.

Councillor Robert Hobson, a proponent of local and valley artists says it speaks to the quality of local artists that, in an open process, the most significant number of artworks were produced by local artists.

"That speaks to the calibre, not just locally, provincially and nationally, but internationally," says Hobson

"I think that is something to celebrate but I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to have a truly great work of art."

Hobson pointed to "The Bear" sculpture in Stuart Park, produced by an artist in Rhode Island.

"That was from an artist from far away who managed to respond to our local environment in a way that captured the imagination and support of the public," says Hobson.

"We can also celebrate the fact that our artists are found all over the world because other places have open policies to encourage the best folks to come forward."

Councillor Colin Basran added that only eight local artists are signed up for the city's art roster.

"I guess this would be a plug to our local artists. If you want to know what city projects are taking place and want to be involved, please sign up," says Basran.

"It goes to Councillor Singh's point - the more local artists we have involved the higher chance they will be selected for some of our projects."

According to McCormick, 26 artists responded to the city's open competition for the Library Parkade project.

Zocolla, who will produce seven screens for the parkade, will be paid $60,000.


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