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Council cancels agreement with art gallery

City Councillor Gene Robert (L) talks to the motion on the floor, Councillor Christine Thompson (R); Photo, Mona Mattei
A city council decision to cut over $30,000 in funding will have a devastating impact on the ability of the Grand Forks Art Gallery to operate. Although the reduction is not in effect until January 2011, the Gallery will need to start taking steps immediately to address the change, said President Robert Morton.
 
“This motion was a surprise to us,” said Morton. “We’re very concerned because this is significant. We’re just in the process of looking into it and seeing what our options are."
 
Two years ago the Gallery took over the heritage courthouse in downtown Grand Forks and was provided a $120,000 service agreement to operate the gallery, a museum and the visitor information service.
 
In addition, the Gallery requested help to cover the larger costs of the building’s operations – about $30,000 for utilities and janitorial. On Oct. 25 the president of the board of the gallery, Robert Morton, came to council to ask for an extension on both agreements.
 
While council initially tabled their discussion about the service agreement with the Gallery at that meeting, Councillor Christine Thompson made a motion at the following council meeting, Monday Nov. 1, to stop paying the additional funding for utilities and janitorial services.
 
“We are funding in accordance with their funding agreement. That is not what I’m taking issue with. Should the art gallery be supported by the city, absolutely. Should the art gallery be supported by the taxpayers and the taxpayers only in an amount in excess of $150,000? Absolutely not,” said Thompson.
 
“I cannot justify to the taxpayers of this community supporting those kinds of funds for one operation. I realize they provide a very valuable service, however, the lease agreement that they signed dictates that they will be responsible for those services.”
 
One point of contention between councillors was that the Gallery does not charge a base rate of admission which Morton said is not accurate.
 
The Gallery has been funded through the service agreement with the city, an annual grant from the B.C. Arts Council, generates revenue from admission by donation, art rentals, gift shop sales, general donations, facility rentals, fund raisers and events. All their other revenue combined is about equal to the city’s contributions annually, explained Morton, and they have recently lost access to the province’s gaming grants as well.
 
Thompson explained that she felt she cannot continue to justify the additional funding to the community. Mayor Brian Taylor argued that there should be a review before changing the funding formula.
 
“I feel there’s been some confusion in terms of the city’s contractual obligation to the gallery,” said Taylor. “We need to go back to them and look at planning for how it’s operating. I would expect that a better process would be to sit down and review the contract and the cost of operating so that we’re not reducing service by reducing their budget.”
 
While Councillor Chris Moslin said that it was late in the year to adjust funding to the society, and Councillor Gene Robert agreed that the sudden change will limit the Gallery’s ability to cope, the motion was passed with a majority.
 
The Gallery’s board of directors will be meeting this week to decide what their next steps will be. 

“We’re looking at all options. We’re going to have to look at everything because it does have an impact on our operation,” said Morton.