Yellowknife council candidates offer ideas at arts-focused forum

Candidates for Yellowknife city council crowded into Makerspace YK with residents Thursday evening to discuss their ideas for bolstering the arts. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)
Candidates for Yellowknife city council crowded into Makerspace YK with residents Thursday evening to discuss their ideas for bolstering the arts. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)

Convert Yellowknife's aging pool into an arts centre and waive fees for arts events in city parks — these were just some ideas offered by city council candidates at a forum dedicated to the arts at Makerspace YK Thursday evening.

All 16 candidates appeared at the forum hosted by non-profit Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre (YK ARCC).

They all pretty much agreed: the arts are a key element of a thriving community, and public art would bring new life to the city's downtown.

Around 40 or 50 people gathered to hear what the candidates had to say about supporting the arts and artists in Yellowknife.

In the first hour, candidates were asked questions demanding a solid grasp of city plans and strategies about what they would do to make it easier, and perhaps profitable, to create or consume art in the city.

One question was: "Where do you see opportunities for arts and culture initiatives to be used to help achieve goals and recommendations of other plans that have been developed and are being implemented by the city?"

In response, Garett Cochrane rattled off a number of arts projects the city should take on to meet reconciliation and downtown revitalization goals.

"As a proud LGBTQ+ Métis and resident of the downtown, both of these strategies mean a lot to me," he said.

Cochrane went on to suggest turning the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool into a dual arts space and library, and putting an Indigenous cultural centre where the library is now.

Walter Strong/CBC
Walter Strong/CBC

He also suggested the city create two artist-in-residence programs: one for an Indigenous artist, and one for an artist who would take on "beautification of the downtown core."

Finally, he said, the city should change its bylaws to allow busking.

Several candidates saw an opportunity for an arts centre in the soon-to-be-former pool.

"I can see that there is too much space dedicated to sports and recreation, and I think it's high time that we give a bit to the arts community, and maybe a little more space," said Rob Foote, expressing his support for the idea.

John Fredericks, Tom McLennan and Steve Payne were also in favour.

Candidates proposed a variety of ways the city could create more space for artists to perform, show and sell art.

Ben Hendriksen pointed to the barriers artists face in renting city-owned spaces.

"The cost is prohibitive, even for outdoor access," he said. "That's something the city can deal with. They can waive that."

Payne suggested that more artwork be displayed at city hall and other city-owned buildings.

"We can support artists by promoting their material in our facilities," he said

McLennan said online tools to list and search arts spaces would "just [make] it easier for artists to both find and access space."

Dwayne Simmons suggested using the Folk on the Rocks site for arts events throughout the summer.

Cat McGurk, who is president of Makerspace YK, said for arts groups to grow, secure operational funding is a must.

McGurk noted that Makerspace YK, the forum's venue, got three years of funding "and because of that, we had a lot of security. We didn't have to run around looking for other grants to maintain operations."

The next candidates forum, hosted by the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, is at the Explorer Hotel Friday at 7 p.m.