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$64,000 for public art piece

An Abbotsford councillor questions the optics of spending $64,000 on public art. - John Van Putten
An Abbotsford councillor questions the optics of spending $64,000 on public art.
— image credit: John Van Putten

The first work of art to be produced under the City of Abbotsford’s new public art policy has been erected at the new McCallum Road interchange.

The $64,000 sculpture rises in the middle of the southern roundabout. (The price includes the cost of installation.)

More such works will be seen in the city after council’s recent approval of an official public art policy, which will see city hall contribute one per cent annually on new civic facilities. The maximum will be $300,000 per project.

Other public art will be added to the new west Abbotsford fire hall, the public library at Abbotsford Collegiate and the interchange project at Clearbrook Road.

“It’s very impressive,” said Mayor George Peary, adding that once pavement and landscaping around the sculpture are complete, the city will do an official unveiling. “The early comments are quite encouraging.”

The piece is a sculpture by local First Nations artist Raphael Silver, signifying the life of salmon. The round shape represents the first stage of life as an egg. The two salmon inside the egg are meant to portray the continuous cycle of the salmon’s travel to the ocean and return to the river.

“It is a symbol of the Sto:lo people’s reverence of this beautiful animal which has come to mean so much to them, and homage to mother nature to show thanks and appreciation for such a generous gift,” says a city backgrounder on the status.

Peary said a strong arts community is part of Abbotsford’s character, including the national touring exhibits on display at The Reach, local schools that deliver the curriculum using the arts, and performers who are finalists on Canadian Idol.

“It all reflects on the city,” he said.

He said the sculpture is a small expense in the scope of the project. The McCallum interchange was budgeted at $25 million, but came in under budget and will cost approximately $20 million when it is finished, said Peary.

He said the public art policy is the same approach that has European cities beautified by fountains and statues.

“People love to visit the cultural icons of a city,” he said.

He added that city hall wants developers to beautify their projects with public art, and the municipality must lead by example.

However, Coun. Simon Gibson, who said he is not opposed to public art, thinks council must be careful with taxpayers’ money.

“It’s the timing, and the very challenging budget year we’ve experienced. The optics are problematic at this time,” said Gibson.

He and Coun. Moe Gill voted against the public art policy.

Gibson noted the city is wrestling with policing costs, significant payroll costs, and the need for $230 million over the next five years for a new water supply from Stave Lake.

Council approved a 4.3 per cent budget increase for 2011, and has a five-year financial plan that will raise taxes 17 per cent.

“As a city, we have to make sure we don’t depart too far from our core mandate – to provide core services,” Gibson said.

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