What we need from our government at this time

from Ray Spaxman

The Vancouver Art Gallery is one of the most important institutions in the city for many reasons so well expressed by the Gallery in its current search for support for its new building. Its future success is also vital to the future well being of the city. I love the art gallery. I also love the city and believe its future success relies a great deal on how we, as a community, make decisions about its future. Sharing information, following transparent decision making processes, seeking out and listening to all points of view about how decisions are made about such important matters are important to the well being of the city community.

For many years the Vancouver art Gallery has been studying the best way to provide the additional space that it considers is needed for it to remain a viable and appropriate facility.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to review the detailed studies the gallery was undertaking to improve the existing building. I commented on the enormously potentially-contentious ideas that were being considered, and anticipated the lively public discussions that would ensue once they were shared with the public.

Then, some months later, I became aware from the newspapers that the provincial government was proposing to locate a new gallery on the north shore of False Creek.

Then, a further few months later, the press reported that the Gallery had decided that it wanted to build a new facility at Larwill Park.

Then I began to hear many different and often conflicting opinions about the merits of staying put or moving.

Then, in May, I was asked to participate in a public forum on the subject that I could not get to because I was out of the country. Instead I sent this letter. I am sorry I shall miss the Forum on the relocation of the art gallery. It is such an important subject and I am glad you have taken the initiative to invite anyone interested to come and join a discussion on the issue.

I came to an opinion about the possible move many months ago. But then the situation changed and I changed my opinion on the basis of new information. Then I came across another argument which made sense to me and I realized in order to make an informed decision it would be wise for me to spend some thoughtful time weighing the pros and cons of various alternatives. Since then I have been hoping for such an objective analysis but so far all I have seen a number of well stated and a number of poorly stated opinions about why one alternative is better than another.

Bearing in mind the amount of information that has been generated on the matter it would not be too difficult a task for a group of people to put together an assessment of the pros and cons. While it is always helpful, and often entertaining, to listen to persuasive speakers express their opinions; there is nothing quite as comforting than to be able to review the pros and cons oneself.

I have always been in favour of involving the public in major decisions like this one. I have also always been in favour of providing the public with the same information that the decision makers have. I hope our government will follow Vancouver’s successful style of ensuring informed community involvement before others make the decision.

I look forward to reviewing a transcript of your important event.

So today I am still wondering if our city government could take a more active role in helping us, the public, to give careful, thoughtful, objective, shared consideration of the pros and cons of this, so important, opportunity.

I would like the city to lead us in a discussion about what we would like the future of our city to be say in 30 to 40 years time. As one component of that I would like the city to lead us in thinking about the future of the cultural, recreational and artistic characteristics of this city in 30 years time. I would like to know the pros and cons of all the potential options for the future of the gallery. That includes the whys and wherefores of such items as sizes, shapes, purposes and functions, customers and artists, anticipated public and private costs and revenues, timing and phasing. Maybe we need an independent and diverse review committee to guide and recommend?

I strongly support reaching out for public participation in the affairs of the city. That does not mean simply making long, complex technical reports available to people. It means spending creative energies to ensure that such information is made easily accessible in easy-to-understand formats, ensuring that the information is as accurate as possible. I would like the city to lead the debate with fairness, energy and diplomacy. I believe it would be good to set a target date for a decision to be made.

One of my favourite guiding principles goes something like this.

Not only government but also the critics of government policy and the proponents of rival policies should have access to the information, the methods and the skills which are available to government. Failing this, both halves of the dialogue will be weakened. The policy makers will ignore the criticisms of a public which they deem to be uninformed and the public will be unconvinced by pronouncements which they cannot verify.

I also firmly believe that any government that follows these principles will be a better, stronger government and restore some of the lost confidence that so many of us have in government at this time.

So I believe we need an independent review of all the considered pros and cons of this vitally important opportunity and it should be presented to the public in an easy to understand format. Thank you.

What we need from our government at this time, July 8, 2010 – Listen
Ray Spaxman, Spaxman Consulting Group