Arts and culture is the latest issue to divide the front runners in Kelowna’s mayoral race.
While challenger Tom Dyas says funding local arts groups receive has not increased in years, incumbent Colin Basran begs to differ.
On Tuesday, during a mayoral all-candidates forum that focused on the arts and diversity in the city, Dyas said budgets are getting tighter and tighter for art groups when they seek funding from the city, as well as the provincial and federal governments.
“The budget that the arts community has been given has not increased in a number of years,” said Dyas.
Despite a warning to candidates by forum moderators at the start not to engage each other in their answers, Basran veered off when it was his turn to speak saying he felt compelled to “call out untruths.”
“I know we aren’t supposed to make this a debate, but I have to call out untruths,” he said. “So I have to let everybody know that the arts budget in our community over our last term has actually increased by $400,000.”
The city annually awards grants to many local arts group that operate in the city, including two that Dyas said he personally supports, the Okanagan Symphony and Opera Kelowna.
The exchange was the only direct response either man made to each other during the forum, hosted by the Art Council of the Central Okanagan. It also included one of the other candidates in the four-man race, local skateboard shop owner Bobby Kennedy. The fourth candidate, retired city bylaw officer Bob Schewe, was sick and could not attend.
Kennedy said as the owner of a skateboard shop in the city, he is not only a strong personal supporter of the arts, but also supports them through his business and the work it does in the community.
Skateboarding, he said, is considered an art, not a sport.
Asked about how the city could help artists, especially those from marginalized parts of the community, Dyas said the key is to provide more space for them to not only create their art, but also to show it to the public. He said he learned about the need for more space by talking directly to a number leaders in the local arts community prior to the forum.
Kennedy agreed, saying one way the city could help would be by open up City Park to allow more street artists to offer their works there.
“Recently, our attitude towards street performers has been to eliminate them, to give them fines,” said Kennedy. “I don’t think we are being that inclusive to anybody, whether they are Indigenous or they are just an artist trying to get their (work) out there.”
Basran, who is wrapping up his first four years as mayor, said the city has been very supportive of the arts, noting the work it has done funding art groups, displaying art at the airport, supporting Culture Days and other arts initiatives and working with the Westbank First Nation to showcase aboriginal art in the community.
All three men talked about the positive impact the arts have on the city from both a social and economic point of view.
A recent study showed the arts generate $57 million in wages in Kelowna, employ more than 1,300 people and have an economic impact of $143 million.
The candidates were also asked about diversity in the city, specifically about their support for the LGBTQ community.
All three men said they would walk in the annual Pride parade if elected elected, but while Dyas said he would because it would be his responsibility as mayor, both Kennedy and Basran—a vocal supporter as mayor of inclusion for all regardless of sexual orientation—said they would continue to participate whether elected or not.
Dyas said while he has not marched in the past, he is closer to the issue than many may realize because a person very important in his life “chose a path of extreme diversity.”
“This person is a person I love, and straight forward to them I said ‘you will continually and forever have my love,’” he said. He did not identify the person or the relationship.
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