Council reluctant to fund statue, but will help with admin, land and time

While the Tofino Municipal Council may support the Weeping Cedar Woman’s return to Tofino in principle, the deal being worked out includes district ownership, and help with administration, land, time and maintenance, but not local “taxpayer dollars” via grant money to bring her here.

During their January regular meeting, council supported the massive statue in principle and directed staff to work with a coalition of organizations to determine the cost, infrastructure requirements and potential sources of funding.

Last week, district CAO Bob MacPherson presented staff’s recommendations to council and, in part, four of staff’s six recommendations were approved.

Staff was authorized to provide servicesin-kind to support the return of the Weeping Cedar Woman including financial administration and finding a suitable location.

Tofino council will work with local community groups and artist Godfrey Stephens in an effort to bring the Weeping Cedar Woman back to Tofino as a district-owned piece of public art.

The district will serve as the financial agent to accept public donations and issue tax receipts for the purpose of assisting community groups with the purchase of the Weeping Cedar Woman.

If efforts to secure the statue do not come to fruition by April 1, 2016, anyone who donated over $250 will have the option of having their money refunded or put towards a public art fund and donations under $250 will automatically go towards an art fund.

The Weeping Cedar Woman’s ultimate location within the district will be determined after consultation with the community. After approving these recommendations council shot down two recommendations that called for a total of $10,000 to come from the 2014 Arts Grant program.

Staff recommended the district commit up to $5,000 for the purchase of the Weeping Cedar Woman and another $5,000 to prepare a site and install the statue with an appropriate base.

Council instead directed staff to look into potential funding sources other than taxpayer money that could be used for the statue’s acquisition, site preparation, and future maintenance.

MacPherson said if the statue is returned to Tofino it should be placed on district land and the district should own it and take responsibility for its maintenance and that it would need to be based securely to withstand the West Coast’s winds.

“Not that this is the best piece of art that we’ve ever seen necessarily (it’s) not priceless in any way but it is an icon from a particular time that determined a direction that Tofino has gone in,” he said.

He acknowledged the statue has sparked a variety of opinions and views from the

community.

“These are emotional decisions and as humans we like to pretend the high operating part of the brain is in charge it really isn’t,” he said. “What I’ve seen on both sides of this discussion in the last few weeks is people are looking at this from a very emotional perspective and I don’t want to devalue that in any way shape or form; I appreciate that there is emotion in this community around this decision.”

He noted the district does not yet have a public art policy in place but a group of community members are “quite motivated” to being the statue home.

He said fundraising efforts have already kicked off and the statue’s restoration work is currently underway.

“I have been told, and believe, that whether the district is involved or not this sculpture is coming back to Tofino and my view is, and there are a variety of views, the district ought to be a player in that process,” he said.

Coun. Garth Cameron said he was not opposed to the statue returning to Tofino but was adamant district money should not be spent.

“It’s our history whether we like it there or not,” he said. “To me this statue is conflict, it tore this town apart, it definitely divided this town; there are people who lost jobs and had to move families.”

He predicted more than enough money could be fundraised for the statue’s purchase and installation.

“That’s well within the reach of the environmental friends Tofino has and I don’t think we should spend one penny of any money that we have available to this council towards this project. If the community wants it, it should be a community project,” he said. Osborne noted district money has already been spent in terms of staff time.

“We’re already going down this road and we have already spent some money, we’ve allocated staff time towards this and we’ve got to a certain place we’re either going to keep going with this or we’re not,” she said. “I hear that most of council is in favour of continuing down the road but somewhat cautiously.”

Coun. Al Anderson said he was surprised to see staff recommend district funding towards the project because he believed council’s January discussion had clearly conveyed a reluctance to put any district money towards the statue’s purchase.

MacPherson reemphasized if the statue is placed on public property the district will need to ensure it is rooted firmly in the ground with a proper base.

“I would see us engaging a structural engineer and getting something built,” he said.

He said allocating some money towards the statue’s purchase would show a commitment to bringing the Weeping Cedar Woman home.

Coun. Dorothy Baert said the district should look into revenue streams that are not part of the taxpayer base.

“Regardless of where you are in the spectrum of how you feel about the issues, in the Weeping Cedar Woman there is an iconic representation of that time,” she said.

She spoke to a district news release suggesting money could be donated at the district office that drew criticism from a local who presented earlier in the meeting but she said the district has provided such support before.

“Perhaps it was a bit precipitous to go ahead to get that funding announcement out but in fact…there is a lot of precedent for the district doing that and the Eik Cedar Tree is one of those times where people were told they could donate to something through the municipality.”

The Eik Cedar is located near Tofino’s highway entrance and is believed to be about 1,000 years old. It was put on the chopping block in 2001 after being deemed hazardous but the community raised about $70,000 to construct a steel girdle to hold it in place and the tree was saved.

Coun. Cathy Thicke said she planned to bring a motion regarding initiating a public art policy in Tofino at council’s next meeting.

reporter@westerlynews.ca