Is Surrey moving from Athens to Sparta, as far as the arts are concerned, under this new city council’s watch?
“Good analogy, yes indeed, that could very likely be the case,” says Ellie King, managing artistic director of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company. “To be, at this point, backing away from what little crumbs the arts community had, is disappointing.”
The city’s draft budget, unveiled this week, revealed plans to postpone a cultural corridor for Surrey, postpone land acquisition for a performing arts theatre in the City Centre and postpone the second phase of the 10660 City Parkway arts project.
“The whole arts community is in a holding pattern,” King told the Now-Leader on Wednesday. “I’m concerned with what might be upcoming.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum could not be reached for comment.
King sits on the Surrey Board of Trade’s arts and culture team, is a director of the Arts Council in Surrey – which is an “umbrella advocacy organization” for the arts in this city – and also leads a performing arts task force that was formed six months ago towards acquiring a “much needed” arts venue in the city centre.
Ellie King, managing artistic director of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company. (File photo)
“As I said to some of my fellow artists, let’s lie low and keep our powder dry because we don’t know when and if we’re going to need it,” King said it the wake of the draft budget release. “At this point we are on uncertain ground.
“I’m really truly hoping that Mayor McCallum and the councillors take a look at the arts community,” she said. “I’m sure the mayor and council have the very best outcome at heart for Surrey and so I’m looking forward to meeting with them all.
“I think it’s very early days. I think perhaps Mayor McCallum has some catching up to do with what the value of the arts community in general has been to both the economic and livability status for Surrey. We were designated the ‘cultural capital’ in 2008 and it seems sad that we should be perhaps potentially dismantling our cultural support.
“It would be very valuable if Mayor McCallum and or the new councillors who do not know us would meet with us and perhaps discuss what we have brought to Surrey. Economically $1 invested has brought $6 back.”
Former Surrey mayor Linda Hepner stated in a press release in June 2017, at the 10660 City Parkway’s official opening, that she was “delighted that this project has been realized as this new creative space will promote community engagement of the arts in Surrey” and she added that a “strong foundation of arts and culture is the hallmark of a thriving City and this initiative supports the vision outlined in Surrey’s Cultural Plan to nurture arts opportunities in our town centres.”
According to the 2018-2022 financial plan under the former Surrey First-dominated council, the cultural corridor would “generally” follow King George Boulevard from Whalley to South Surrey with phase one delivering 2,500-square feet of a 7,500-square foot building as “art space” operated by King’s theatre group and the Streetrich Hip Hop Society (the latter is no longer involved). Phase 2, which is now also postponed, would see the further development of a “creative hub” in the city centre that would house multiple cultural organizations.
“We’re just basically waiting to see what the next move is, if there is a next move, towards dismantling arts support is going to be, before we go public with any ideas or actions as to what we might do,” King said.
Ellen Farrugia, chairwoman of the Surrey City Orchestra’s board of directors, was hoping her musicians would be staging concerts in the performing arts centre, in the city centre, by the fall of 2019.
“My initial reaction was horror,” she said of the projects being postponed under Surrey’s draft budget. “We need a home. We’re homeless at the moment and probably will be for quite some time. We need these halls. We absolutely need these things.
Farrugia noted that an arts centre can run “almost 24/7 if there’s a music school in it, and recording studios, so it’s operating constantly. It just benefits the city economically with everything around it, as far as restaurants, everybody knows this. When you invest a dollar in the arts, what you get back is much, much more, you know.”
But, she added, “Until I hear about a land acquisition, I’m not going to start jumping up and down. We need these things, definitely. Our work is just not sustainable until we have it, we’re going to be floating around all over the place. It’s definitely something we’re going to keep lobbying for — they’re not making us go away, that’s for sure.”
The current five-year draft financial plan is not yet set in stone. A public meeting to consider it is set for Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 4 p.m. in council chambers, before the finance committee. According to the city’s website, written comments will be considered up until 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17. Written comments can be sent to: Chair, Finance Committee, City of Surrey 13450-104 Avenue, Surrey, BC V3T 1VB (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; fax: 604-501-7578).
Meantime, the Surrey Board of Trade — which has not pulled punches in its advocacy of LRT for Surrey, maintaining the Surrey RCMP contract and ridesharing contrary to the positions advanced by the Safe Surrey Coalition — is being uncharacteristically silent on this week’s draft budget.
“We’re going to be issuing our formal statement on Tuesday so I’m presenting in front of mayor and council on Tuesday next week and I’m still evaluating the budget so I can’t make a comment until then,” the board’s CEO Anita Huberman told the Now-Leader on Wednesday.
Not even a general impression?
“Not at this time, no,” she said. “All I have to say is that this is a time of change for Surrey. What that means for the business community needs to be evaluated, and that’s what we’re doing.”