Monday, January 18, 2010

New art gallery to charge admission for special exhibits; City never submitted Building Canada application for Mendel; MVA withholding records

In November, Mendel Art Gallery board chair Art Knight told the StarPhoenix that the question of an admission fee would be addressed in the business plan for the new art gallery at River Landing.

A preliminary look at other galleries has shown only five per cent of revenue is generated from admission fees, with more coming from restaurants, gift shops and other areas, he said.

“The possibility of an admission fee will be developed in that context,” Knight said. [Gallery plan to council (StarPhoenix, November 27, 2009)]

However, in an August 2009 report reviewing the eligibility of the proposed $58-million Destination Centre project for Building Canada Funds (BCF), Infrastructure Canada states that “increased revenue will be generated from admission fees for special exhibits.” What else is Knight not telling people? Are general admission and parking fees around the corner too?

In the same report, which was obtained through a freedom of information request, federal officials say proponents of the new gallery anticipate 200,000 visitors annually. Is that all? The Mendel topped that in 2000 with 214,945. Granted, attendance has fallen since then but a renovated and expanded gallery at less than half the cost ($24-million) would see a significant increase. Knight suggested as much in the gallery’s 2007 annual report saying that once the building is rejuvenated individuals and families will visit “in even greater numbers”.

The report does not say how the 200,000 was arrived at for the new art gallery. Is it wishful thinking or was a market study done to determine this figure? What evidence is there that attendance will exceed what the Mendel currently experiences? It’s possible that the River Landing location could actually see a decline in attendance, since the Mendel is more easily accessible in terms of parking, and its proximity to the Meewasin trail, Kinsmen Park, and the University, etc.

An admission charge (even for just special events) would definitely be a deterrent for many people who can’t afford the cost or believe they shouldn’t have to pay twice (since the gallery is already supported by tax dollars) for access to their own cultural heritage.

INFC officials are claiming that the proposed Destination Centre has local and provincial support but aren’t saying how they got that information.

On August 24, 2009, Michael Rutherford, the department’s director of priority initiatives, sent an email to Loryn Gentle, a communications advisor, containing a draft questions and answers document for the new building.

One of the questions was: “Why did the federal government decide to proceed with this project, when there is a project underway to renovate and expand the current Mendel Art Gallery?”

The answer: “It is understood that there is strong support for this project at the municipal and provincial level, and with its accessibility and close proximity to the downtown, hotels and Riverfront Park, it will be an ideal location for a tourist attraction. The added space and expansion of community programs will offer more to the local arts community and will be able to accommodate the increased number of visitors.”

With this in mind, an email was sent to Rutherford on January 10, 2010, asking him how INFC determined there was strong local and provincial support for the project and what was the source of the information. He was also asked whether INFC had conducted any kind of public consultation process. Rutherford hasn’t responded.

The federal government fails to acknowledge that the Mendel has been a nationally recognized tourist attraction for 45-years and if expanded and renovated, it too would offer more to the local arts community and be able to accommodate an increased number of visitors.

Public reaction to moving the Mendel has been mostly negative with the vast majority of letters received by city council or published in the StarPhoenix opposed to the plan. Additionally, since September 23, 2009, more than 1,500 individuals have signed an online petition to keep the gallery at its present location. Apparently this means nothing to the powers that be.

To this day the federal government has refused to disclose the details of its closed-door discussions with the city, the Mendel and the province in early 2009 when the four partners secretly decided to pursue a new building.

Another stunning piece of news is the recent revelation that the City of Saskatoon never submitted the Mendel renovation and expansion project to the federal government for consideration of Building Canada Funds.

In late 2008 the public was led to believe that city administration had requested funding for the Mendel expansion under the Building Canada program. The StarPhoenix appeared to confirm this on at least two occasions:
Big building year ahead, December 31, 2008, page A3
“The gallery is among several projects on the city’s application for funding from the Canada Builds program.”

Mendel backer frustrated, November 20, 2008, page A3
“The project, which is at least five years old, is awaiting word on its $7.6-million request from the federal Canada Builds program.”
The main evidence, though, is the city’s 2009 capital budget document (approved by city council on December 15, 2008) and Project 1817 – Mendel Renovation and Expansion that states: “A grant application has been submitted to the Buildings Canada Fund in excess of $7 million.”

On October 30, 2009, an access to information request was filed with the city for a copy of the application.

In a letter dated January 6, 2010, the city clerk advised that the only submission made was on April 9, 2009, for the Destination Centre. There was no earlier application for the Mendel.

So what about the statement in the city’s 2009 capital budget? Well, according to the city clerk in a follow-up email on January 12, 2009, the report “could have been better worded. It should have said that it was the City’s intention to forward a project application to the Building Canada Fund, not that an application had already been made. At that point there had only been discussions between administrative staff of the City and the Federal Government as to project eligibility, but no submission had been made and wasn’t made until April 2009.”

The city has never disclosed the details of its early discussions with the federal government or explained why it didn’t submit the application. Especially when on January 8, 2009, Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel board chair Art Knight sent a letter to then Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport Minister Christine Tell telling her that the expansion and renovation of the Mendel was a “worthy and important project” that “will be successful.”

And finally, there is the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), an organization with a huge interest in the Mendel’s demise. Ever since April 3, 2009, when it was announced that the gallery would be moving to River Landing, the MVA have had the inside track on possibly relocating to the Mendel building once it’s vacated. That particular process appears to be just as big a sham as the one involving the new art gallery or the nearby Parcel “Y” and developer Lake Placid.

In early January 2010, Meewasin administration flatly denied a freedom of information request for copies of two memorandums (dated October 2, 2009, and November 6, 2009) from CEO Susan Lamb to her board and also a feasibility report for a new Meewasin Valley Centre that was prepared by On Purpose Leadership Inc. and considered by the board at its November 20, 2009, meeting.


Previous Mendel posts

January 1, 2010:
Mendel board chair Art Knight failing to answer questions; City refusing access to steering committee minutes and Mayor Don Atchison’s daily planner

November 12, 2009:
Hon. Rob Merrifield, Minister of State for Transport, ducking questions on new art gallery; City of Saskatoon denying access to more Mendel records

September 28, 2009:
River Landing cost hits $135-million; Mayor Don Atchison’s comments insulting to Mendel family; public misled on new art gallery being “shovel ready”

September 14, 2009:
Western Economic Diversification email suggests backroom deal between city and Mendel board to move gallery; StarPhoenix hypocrisy stunning

August 26, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery: City of Saskatoon incorporates Art Gallery of Saskatchewan without public debate or input

August 21, 2009:
‘I assure you for all time, this centre will be good’: Fred Mendel; Federal gov’t stalling, breaking law on FOI requests; Province withholding records

July 19, 2009:
Mendel expansion and renovation ‘worthy and important’: Atchison & Knight; Infrastructure Canada violates federal law; MVA won’t release CEO reports

June 21, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery: City of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport refusing to disclose records on proposed new gallery

May 13, 2009:
Meewasin Valley Authority refusing to release CEO reports; board votes behind closed doors to investigate possible move to Mendel Art Gallery site

April 26, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery rejects freedom of information request, refuses to disclose records; federal government part of covert plan to move gallery

April 8, 2009:
Meewasin move to Mendel site revives aborted 2005 plan; Lamb & Knight serve on secretive River Landing destination centre steering committee

April 6, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery: Mayor Don Atchison and Board of Trustees hypocrisy and betrayal appalling; gallery move planned in near total secrecy


At 11:08 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

Fuck. This.
When I go to the Mendel I always leave a donation anyways, but that`s because its THE MENDEL. I don`t think I would ever visit this new art gallery.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger margi Corbett said...

I agree, Sarah. I am a huge art lover and I will never visit RAGS. The saddest thing is that we are losing our beloved Mendel. The most unbelievable thing is that the Mendel Board REFUSES to consult with or even listen to the gallery's supporters. Unbelievable.


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