Getting arts, history and culture on the radar was the purpose behind a mayoral discussion at the Empire Theatre on Thursday night.
Mark Rashotte, the owner of the Empire Theatre, was the event moderator and said he felt it is a topic worthy of discussion, not only because of the economic benefits but the social benefits.
All four Belleville mayoral candidates, Taso Christopher, Egerton Boyce, Mitch Panciuk and Jodie Jenkins, were in attendance and each had a different view as to how to tackle the issues surrounding the lack of funding and support for art, history and culture in the city.
Rashotte began the discussion by bringing up the $25,000 in funding provided in grant funding. He said it is ridiculous and it needs another zero or two at the end of that.
Jenkins agreed and said it was all about priorities for the city. He wants to see a pendulum shift so there is a healthy balance between sports and the arts communities.
Panciuk told the crowd of approximately 100 people if they want to see real change made, they need to put arts, history and culture into the Official Plan. He also discussed providing base funding so artists can continue to keep their doors open.
Boyce suggested creating a task force of individuals who know what they need and bringing them forward to the city to tell the city what needs to be done.
Christopher said the arts, history and culture groups need to be unified and organized and that is how they will become the focus. He said there are great things happening, but it can always be better.
Rashotte continued discussing funding and stated that of the five biggest per capita investment cities in Canada, funding is from $35 – $55 per capita. Here in Belleville, it’s $0.50 a person.
He said it’s not about how much the community will spend, it’s about how much they can make.
Discussion turned to public-private partnerships in support of the arts, history and culture communities.
Christopher felt they are great ideas as the industrial park in Belleville has flourished as a result of private-public partnerships.
Boyce said he would be more than willing to discuss those partnerships in attracting events to the city. He continued by saying while attracting new artists to the city is great, they can’t forget the ones currently here. He said they need to update how they do economic development and move towards more support of the arts and culture.
Panciuk wants to have incentives to have galleries and studios in the downtown buildings with lofts above them, but he said the real change will come with a change of the Official Plan. He said manageable growth and responsible steps are how they need to approach this.
In closing, Jenkins told the crowd if they want something different they need new leadership and he has the qualities essential to being Belleville’s next mayor.
Panciuk said he is a big supporter of community groups and you can see that in his business and he is prepared to be that champion and supporter of the arts.
Boyce didn’t claim to have the answers the crowd was looking for, which is why he wants to start the task force. He said he can be the person people trust and will get things done.
Christopher said it is time to unite and look at the bigger picture.
Rashotte told the crowd he was glad they could have this discussion and the four candidates were on board, even with only nine days notice.
Election day is October 22.