In 7-1 vote, Sackville Town Council approves $25K sculpture after some voice misgivings

The Chignecto Balance (click to enlarge)

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’

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

“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’

Councillor Bruce Phinney

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.

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6 Responses to In 7-1 vote, Sackville Town Council approves $25K sculpture after some voice misgivings

  1. Will says:

    Councillors need to keep the taxpayers in mind whenever they think of spending money. They should also just focus on the basics in my opinion, eg roads, utilities, public safety. Let the artists and businesses create their own events, marketing campaigns to drum up business and bring in people to the town. I’m paying $6000 per year in property taxes on my own well/septic so I view everything through the lens that my taxes are too high. In my last city I paid just over $2000 and my house was double the price and they took all my garbage and recycling each week. We have potholes and patched roads everywhere but yes let’s create a $25,000 weather vane.

  2. Gary Wiley says:

    How can council afford 25000.00 for this and cant afford the paint to do the band stand at the Bill Johnstone park.

  3. Elizabeth V. says:

    A public art work placed outdoors should be designed as a site-specific installation. The site is a crucial element: it defines the available views of the work, the way in which the public interacts with the piece, exposure to traffic, weather conditions and vandalism. The process of commissioning a work of art for a public space should begin with choosing the site and artists should be required to visit that site before creating a proposal. The context is a part of the work itself.
    I am disappointed with the selection process and the final choice of art work in this competition. The last thing we need in the region of the Tantramar marsh is a huge steel cattail – there are plenty of beautiful, large specimens to admire in the natural environment. A public work of art should be timeless, and the cartoon-like cutout of a car at the top of the cattail will look dated in a few years. Were there any fine art curators involved in the decision-making? As a contemporary work of art intended to address the theme of climate change, this sculpture fails.

    • Agreed Elizabeth and too we need not just a town council but a professional committee to help contribute to this process. This is done with many towns and organizations to include the Royal Canadian Navy who have asked me to sit on their boards. As a professional sculptor myself with works of art on an international stage I concur, the town needs to establish a true bonified committee reaching outside the tight knit local committee. After all these are tax payers dollars council is spending and sending money to another province. This is not “keeping it local”.

  4. Ian Alter says:

    While $25,000 may seem like a lot of money to some, there is likely precious little left in the end for the artist.

    From that budget, the artist was not only responsible to prepare the concept, but also needed to purchase the materials, physically build, ship and travel to Sackville to install it. Additionally, any cost overruns were the responsibility of the artist.

    As I was one of the 26 entrants, I have a personal bias regarding the final choice. Judging from the caliber of some of the other entrants, there were likely several better choices available to the judges.

    In the end, I suspect most of the artists participating in this process, were doing so out of personal generosity and at artistic expression, and not the money.

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