COLUMN: City arts survey flawed

The City of Cornwall is running a feasibility survey for an arts and culture center. The survey is a low-cost approach to looking at what the community’s needs are. At best, this survey is a flawed document that will result in a biased report that should be discounted. At worst, even though the survey was low-cost, it will be a waste of time and money.

The first of many flaws of this survey is that it is open to everyone. It does not matter if the person is a taxpayer in Cornwall, or South Dundas, or Timbuktu. Asking for the survey takers location is appropriate. If taxpayers of Cornwall will be funding whatever this pie-in-the-sky arts and culture center will be. Shouldn’t they be the only people answering the survey? Unless the idea is to build a regional center. The idea has been floated around by groups in the region before, to coalesce the regional arts scene in Cornwall and have the counties help pay for it. County council only gave outside groups a total of $16,000 in their 2016 budget and none to arts groups. City officials should not expect support for an arts and culture center in Cornwall.

All the questions in the survey are geared towards supporting the conclusion of supporting a new center. They center around what programs, city or otherwise sourced, the survey-taker uses. Or asking what programs are not offered that the survey-taker would like to take in a public facility. To make an arts and culture center viable, the city would have to increase their programming to fill space. This places government in competition with private individuals, businesses, and community groups that offer arts and culture programs. Should government compete with those entities? Is it fair to those entities that the city cuts in on their programs? No to both questions. Government’s role is not to be everything to everyone.

The survey avoids asking if the taxpayers want to fund an arts center. It is certain to cost more than the $97,000 a year the city gives to Aultsville Theater. So if taxpayers want this, are they willing to pay for it? If this is a plan to get stimulus money or the like from the provincial or federal governments, good luck. Both of those levels of government are broke. This means it will be funded by the city alone. Cue to gold card, or look for another use for that Progress Fund.

The biggest flaw in the survey is that the most important question is avoided altogether. Do you want an arts and culture center in Cornwall? The fact the creator of the survey does not  include this question in the survey, speaks to the lack of support for the project in the community.  Outside of the niche, and dueling, arts groups, where is the groundswell of support? The silence is deafening.

In the end, the progressives on city council will continue to champion the need for this arts and culture center. That is the role of the big-government progressives, regardless of the level of government they serve in. Government should do more is their mantra, and we should pay more to do it. For an arts and culture center in the City of Cornwall, there is no viable case for it. Flawed surveys to push the progressive agenda is nothing more than a waste of time and money.