Lack of working agreement results in Originals Only Art Show cancellation

An inability to come to terms with the Town of Comox on a mutual working agreement has led to the cancellation of the Originals Only Art Show.

Earlier this year in a staff report to council, Ted Hagmeier, recreation director for the town said during a review of the financial controls of the municipality, it became apparent that the Town could not continue its current role with Originals Only without establishing a formal agreement.

For more than a decade, the event has operated on an annual basis in Marina Park. The event hosts artists who purchase booth space from which they sell art to the public during the second weekend in August.

It was billed as an opportunity to provide local and Island-based artists, working at all levels, an opportunity to showcase their talents.

Hagmeier noted be believes the event originated from a relationship with the then-Comox Recreation Commission and Joe Smith of Originals Only.

“Following a review of our files, the Town does not have any formal record or an agreement speaking to any arrangements established between the two parties at that time,” he explained.

He added currently the Town’s involvement in the event is the reserving of Marina Park at no cost in addition to collecting revenues from participating artists.

Originals Only purchases various equipment and services to support the event from organizations and businesses who in turn, invoice the Town, who pays invoices received with revenue from the event.

Hagmeier said typically over the years the event expenditures match revenues.

In the report, he explained the arrangement is distinct from any other Town of Comox Community Centre special events or program in that the Town has no input or formal participation in the event; Originals Only does not provide the Town with a budget; the Town pays invoices without any prior approval or input; Town staff do not attend the event; Originals Only does not provide the Town with proof of insurance and Originals Only names the Town as an event sponsor on their website.

The arrangement was brought the attention of Hagmeier as Clive Freundlich, the Town’s director of finance reviewed the Town’s financial controls and procedures.

Hagmeier met with Smith in Dec. 2018 to discuss how the event might evolve that would satisfy the Town’s need for financial transparency while respecting the event’s importance to the Comox Valley.

He presented some options to consider: that the event establishes itself as a not-for-profit; that Originals Only partners with a community group or group or that the Town assumes a formal role with the event.

The financial implications of option one or two would have no direct impact to the Town with the exception of council electing to exempt the event from paying applicable permit fees. Option three would have financial implications by way of staff time and costs which exceed revenues generated by the event.

Without a formal agreement, he noted the Town cannot continue to continue its current role with the event.

“Further, existing community centre resources would make it extremely difficult for the Town to assume another ‘community event’ and the responsibilities that come with (it).”

In a letter addressed to council, Smith explained when the show was first conceived, the Recreation Commission was operating as an arm’s length entity on behalf of the Town.

“At that time there was interest from the commission to develop a cultural policy which would embrace and promote the arts community,” he noted.

He said accurate records were to be kept by both the commission and the organizing committee to ensure transparency and adherence to proper accounting procedures.

Smith added the town has benefited from the event as it attracts visitors to the town’s core and revitalized harbour area on a summer weekend in addition to enhancing the town’s cultural identity.

“While profits from the event have never been great, the proceeds from the event have been used to purchase equipment such as an electrical power box to be used for indoor events in the recreation centre.”

He said as it is a Comox event, a major Comox organization with interests in the town’s success was approached to see if it would consider taking on the event as one of its activities.

“The outcome was not positive,” he wrote.

Smith said the organizing committee, comprising volunteer artists who participate in the show, is disappointed.

“Other than some support from Town staff, the event was always run on its own merits and never needed any additional funding from the Town to cover any expenses. The committee prided itself on the fact that it never had to seek any outside funding and was always able to show a positive balance at the end of the year.”

He said there are a few artists trying to put together another outdoor fine art event to take place around the same time in August, but nothing at this point has been finalized.

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