Pipe Man, the industrial art installation in the image of Tom Thomson which floats in the Muskoka River and was donated to the community by local business owner Jan Nyquist for his company’s 35th anniversary, was back before Council Monday night.
Neither the future of our hospitals, nor taxes, not even the state of our roads has received the attention Pipe Man has. For some, that in itself speaks to Pipe Man’s resounding success, but for others, it has become symbolic of the type of arrogance that assumed such an installation had a rightful place in such a prominent part of the river without public consultation in the first place.
Then there is Nyquist, a successful businessman, community employer and philanthropist who gifted Pipe Man to the community at a personal cost of $50,000 and with the best of intentions. He has found himself caught in the middle of the vortex of, at times, downright nasty and abusive public comments.
“I have to wonder,” said Nyquist, “and ask my critics who have been so openly rude and disrespectful towards the artist Beverly Hawksley and my staff on social media and other places, how much do they give to the community annually? Do they give to the community or do they take from it?”
I am well aware that you councillors have received many complaints and that social media bullying has been relentless. Anyone who ever does anything new is going to come under criticism. This does not mean we stop inventing new things, trying new things and doing new things. The question for you today is whether you’re going to have vision and show leadership or are you going to let negativity hinder the progress of our community?Jan Nyquist, Donor
Council unanimously accepted the gift last year. When Pipe Man was installed in the river last November, it almost instantaneously resulted in calls for its removal, which were met with council eventually instructing staff to conduct a survey in order to get input from the community on an alternative location for the art. Unfortunately, very few respondents gave viable alternatives, choosing instead to express their opinion on the art itself, according to Huntsville Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Teri Souter.
“There were a lot of complaints in the comments about the survey process itself because they wanted to be able to say whether they liked it, not whether or not they liked the location,” she explained. Souter also noted that there were lessons learned as a result of the survey, like granting people anonymity.
“We felt that it would give people the opportunity to be honest and we put out a limit of two returns per IP address. I think that it backfired in the way that some people may have gone over the top in their comments due to their anonymity.”
Souter said some of the more constructive criticism received included consulting with the community in advance before accepting or installing public art in a specific location as well as including a clause to remove the installation at the donor’s expense as a condition of acceptance. Other suggestions included implementing a working group to advise council on such donations. “So that’s all nice information moving forward, but it doesn’t really help the issue at hand,” she said.
The survey ran for 41 days between June 29 and August 8, 2017. There were 1,392 responses and 952 comments. Seven per cent of those who responded said they liked the location, 90 per cent said they disliked the location and three per cent indicated they did not care.
Councillor Bob Stone, seconded by Councillor Brian Thompson, put a motion on the floor on Monday to return the art installation to Nyquist and have it removed from the river by next summer at his expense.
Stone said he voted in favour of the art installation at the beginning but “the people yelled and screamed. I believe that we’re now saying we made a mistake, we have real information from the survey to say yes, a whole lot of people really don’t want it or at least in that location.”
Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison took issue with that comment, noting, “I don’t think you speak for all of us sir.”
Stone agreed that he was not speaking for all of council but said the mistake was not consulting with the public in the first place.
Others had a slightly different take.
I’ve always liked Pipe Man in that position and I hope that the other 16,000 people in Huntsville that didn’t fill out the survey, [that]half of them agree with me. Councillor Jason FitzGerald.
Councillor Det Schumacher called Pipe Man a great conversation piece, which has given Huntsville national exposure. Schumacher was referring to an article published in the Globe and Mail about the controversy by Roy MacGregor. “And you know what? Two hundred years from now it’s going to be an icon and then all of this will have been forgotten… and good for you Jan Nyquist,” added Schumacher.
Councillor Dan Armour said like seven per cent of those who responded, “I like the Pipe Man where it is.”
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano reminded councillors that it was them who had asked for a survey in the first place.
We don’t need to start doing surveys and asking for people’s opinions if we’re not going to listen to them. So all I want to say going forward is if doing a survey like that isn’t something that we’re going to take seriously, then we shouldn’t be electing to do them.Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano
Councillor Brian Thompson argued that while 1,392 respondents may not seem like a lot, “having ten per cent of our population respond to the survey, which basically this is, is really, really a significant number.”
“I wish that the people that like it had responded to the survey. I feel that it doesn’t do the process a lot of justice if we turn around and just ignore what we’ve been told,” said Councillor Nancy Alcock, who,along with councillors Det Schumacher, Jason FitzGerald and Dan Armour, in the end voted against the motion on the table to have Pipe Man removed at the donor’s expense.
Those who voted in favour of its removal were councillors Karin Terziano, Bob Stone, Brian Thompson and Jonathan Wiebe, which split council in half with four in favour and four against.
Last but not least, Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison tipped the scales by saying he could not support the motion to remove the installation. “To me, this resolution is remarkably insulting and so I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way to proceed than to insult Mr. Nyquist and his entire team by saying take it back.”
Aitchison said he will be meeting with Nyquist to discuss the issue. “I sat down with Mr. Nyquist and he told me about his anniversary, he wanted to do something nice for the town and I told him we don’t need another dock, why not a piece of public art, so that’s how this all began. So I will meet with Mr. Nyquist to talk about what just transpired here. We’ve got a divided council obviously and a lot of people in the community are upset about it.”
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