Feelings were mixed Monday night as Sackville Town Council approved a $25,000 public art installation to create awareness of climate change.
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken along with Councillors Michael Tower and Shawn Mesheau expressed some misgivings about the sculpture called The Chignecto Balance, while Councillor Bruce Phinney voted against it.
The 15-foot-high metal cattail with a working weathervane on top and a compass at its base was designed by Slipper Liu Studio of Vancouver. Its final cost to the town will be $28,750 with HST included.
“I think that this piece of art is really fabulous and so specific to here,” said Councillor Allison Butcher. “I really like everything about this piece,” she added.
“It’s a cattail, it involves the wind, it refers to the corridor and the special place that we have as far as transportation and migration goes,” Butcher said.
“It is marking the direction of the wind, it’s marking the direction of how we go with climate change and the things that we’re putting into place to fight that and to be leaders with that.”
Councillor Andrew Black was equally enthusiastic about the new sculpture.
“The impact for tourism and people coming to see that piece of art, or what it can mean for people visiting Sackville, is significant,” he said. “What makes it most significant in my mind is the fact that it’s huge,” he said.
“If it was three feet high, it would be weird, but having it being 15 feet tall is going to be something that you really can’t miss.”
‘Little to do with climate change’
“I was torn about how to vote for this one because, in my mind, it has precious little to do with climate change,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken.
“It’s a very nice piece, I don’t argue the value as public art, but when you have to make something with smelted metal, put it on a plane and ship it here, the argument for it being somehow contrary to contributing to climate change gets a little thin for me,” he added.
Aiken noted, however, that he would vote in favour of acquiring the sculpture because it was submitted by a “world-famous, well-respected artist” and the favourable publicity it would bring to the town will make it worthwhile.
Why no local artist?
After noting that the sculpture is being created by an artist outside the region, Councillor Shawn Mesheau asked if any local artists had been notified about the project.
CAO Jamie Burke said the ad calling for a request for proposals (RFP) had been sent to the Fine Arts Department at Mount Allison, artists who had created works for the town in the past, the New Brunswick Arts Council and Sackville’s Struts Gallery.
He added that the town advertised the RFP on the New Brunswick Opportunities Network as well as two national websites for artists.
Mesheau responded that Burke’s answer should allay concerns he had heard from townsfolk, but added he’s hoping the town will respond to the latest recommendations from the Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change with “some more tangible type of efforts…in regards to helping right the ship on climate change and mitigation.”
Councillor Michael Tower said he agreed with the Deputy Mayor that it seems strange that the town is spending so much building a piece of public art.
But he predicted the sculpture would be good for tourism and would focus attention on climate change.
“I really enjoyed the fact that the Roundtable, which has got a pretty broad spectrum of people sitting on it, also were in favour of this,” Tower said.
‘Not overly impressed’
In the end, only Councillor Bruce Phinney voted against The Chignecto Balance after saying he had talked to a lot of people who were against spending $25,000 on it.
He complained that, unlike the Mayor’s Roundtable, councillors did not have any say in the final selection of the piece.
Phinney said that council had allocated the money for a public art installation before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and that maybe now is the time to put off spending it until next year.
He also suggested that the $25,000 (plus HST) might be better spent as the town’s contribution to hiring the climate change co-ordinator that the Roundtable recommended.
Phinney concluded that as a piece of art, “I’m not overly impressed with it anyway, to tell you the truth.”
The town has not yet decided where the sculpture will be placed when it’s ready in late November or early December.