Councillor Alex Reed is still seething over a decision by Cochrane town council to provide one-time funding of $50,000 to the Route 22 Artist Collective Gallery, 312 5 Ave. #18, because he believes the town didn't do its homework.

Whether taxpayers agree with him or not, he's encouraging residents to reach out to their elected officials to let them know whether they think this is a wise use of taxpayers’ dollars. 

In a 4-3 vote, the majority of councillors favoured the one-time funding, saying it could plant a vital seed, and that the town has neglected the arts community.

Gallery officials say it would give them the ability to sustain their operations through to 2023 when their charitable status would be formalized, providing them access to alternative funding sources currently unavailable.

Administration told council the funding request fell outside of existing town policy but it was generally supportive of the one-time funding because of the role of the Route 22 gallery in our arts community. It's a group of 40-plus artists representing local art clubs, associations, and guilds, and is viewed as an organization providing art services and infrastructure for Cochrane and area.

The town's Community Services department is planning to develop a comprehensive framework to support art and culture in Cochrane.

Reed says it's not a stand against the arts community.

"What I find very ironic about this decision is that earlier that same evening, town council approved a near 10 per cent property tax increase for our residents and used plenty of air time to talk about how they make sure every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely, about the negative implications for seniors and those struggling to make ends meet, about efficiencies," says Reed, "and then literally gave away $50,000 to a group of artists without doing the duty diligence of seeing a business plan, no measures of success, and no accountability."

"Likewise, I feel that the town administration failed town council and the taxpayers of Cochrane by not even providing the basic criteria of what like size communities do in comparison, as is normally the case, nor other criteria or measures of success."

It was a need to show support the arts community after struggling through the pandemic that won the day. 

Deputy Mayor Marni Fedeyko said the town has been almost negligent in supporting the arts community, but initially struggled with the idea of supporting a small group in our large, diverse, and vibrant visual and performing arts community. She worried about the precedence it would set.

In the end, she voted in favour of providing the support.

Councillor Susan Flowers saw it as an opportunity to plant a seed like was done with organizations like Bow RiversEdge Campground, Home Treasures, and BGC of Cochrane and Area.

"I see this could have a really positive future with kickstart. I wouldn't want to see us keep funding this, but it is filling a void right now that we have, and we really need to look at that. I'd like to see it get a start and have a little support to keep going."

Mayor Genung agreed the town has been almost remise in supporting the arts community. He says Route 22 officials had attempted to make a presentation to town council in time for budget deliberations but were not quite ready to do so.

"In my view, this group has found an innovative approach to showcasing our community, taking it upon themselves to take a lease, collect a group of artists and promote arts in our community," says Mayor Genung.

He saluted them for being able to keep the doors open through COVID at a time we could use some warmth in our lives.

Councillor Morgan Nagel was not prepared to lend support. It followed discussions on town finances, and he said wants to be prudent with spending and doesn't believe this request quite hit his benchmark.

"This is essentially an art gallery with a handful of events, and to fund that $50,000 doesn't seem quite right to me at this point."

Reed says the town needs to be equitable in considering any funding requests.

"Like most members of town council, I am an advocate for all kinds of different groups, whether it’s the full spectrum of the arts community, culture, or recreation, but we need to be equitable to all groups and have in place the necessary criteria to make an informed decision," says Reed.

"I believe that town council has done a very good job in managing taxpayers' dollars," he says. "I think in this case, some members of town council failed to do so."

The funds will be taken from operating reserves.

Genung, Flowers, Fedeyko, and Tara McFadden were in favour. Reed, Nagel, and Patrick Wilson were opposed.