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A rendering of the proposed new Gateway sign to be installed across from Caps off Recycling. The sign has sparked public outcry over the outsourcing of the project to a Nova Scotia design firm. (photo courtesy Town of Inuvik)

Following a tremendous public outcry on social media towards the proposed new Gateway sign that was outsourced to a Nova Scotia-based design firm, an Inuvik-based artist is suggesting the town separate design and engineering aspects of tenders to attract more local artists.

Tony Devlin told Inuvik Drum he requested a copy of the tender as soon as it was available. However, he said the tender read more like an engineering project than a design project.

“The tender was issued by the Public Works department and significantly downplayed the actual artistic and visual design of the sign,” he said. “The only sentence in the entire 15-page tender that deals with look and feel was a very generic ‘focus design that reflects the community’s style and brand.’

“There is no mention of culture, people, activities, land or language. The actual design of the sign seems to be an afterthought in the tender.”

Inuvik Drum obtained a copy of the tender which you can read here. It was advertised in the newspaper on Sept. 12, 2019.

An advertisement for the Gateway sign tender that ran Sept. 12 in the Inuvik Drum.
(NNSL file photo)

Devlin said the two-week time frame that was given to put together a bid was far too short for local artists who would want to put a bid in.

“A local artist interested would have had to also be, or be able to line-up, an engineer, landscape designer and possibly a surveyor, have access to a Computer Automated Design (CAD) program – and understand how to budget for a municipal infrastructure project – in two weeks!” he said. “It was an impossible tender in a region that has no horizontally-integrated companies such as the successful proponent, and only has limited access to engineering and landscape services and design.

“There was little to no consideration of, nor any attempt made to encourage local design or participation with the tender as written.”

Following a CBC article where Inuvik-born artist Ron English criticized the town’s sourcing of the new Gateway Sign project to Fathom Studio — a Nova Scotia design firm — social media exploded with complaints about outsourcing the project instead of using a local developer.

Economy and Tourism director Jackie Challis said the town did not receive a single local bid.

“People are asking why did we bypass local people. We didn’t,” she said. “We would have loved to see a local bidder, but we did not. There were three from B.C., one from Nova Scotia and one from Yellowknife, and Fathom was actually the only one that said ‘We want to do community consultations before we come up with a design.’

Pointing out the town put on several open houses throughout the four years the sign was in planning — the previous town council had put the plan in motion back in 2015 — Challis said she had done a great deal of outreach but had not gotten a huge response, nor did the town get much feedback from other local governments.

“I have a list of over 150 contacts that we sent multiple emails to,” she said. “When we knock on the door and we send an email, and we put an ad in the paper, and we post on the rolling channel,  and we send direct emails and I leave phone messages and still no one responds and then says ‘Hey, you never consulted us’ our question is how to do it better then?

“I specifically sent an email to each of the leaders of Gwich’in Tribal Council, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Nihtat, Inuvik Native Band and Inuvik Community Corporation, asking them for a one-on-one interview with myself and the consultant,” she said. “We sent that out and I followed up with emails and phone calls, and we only had two responses. One from Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan (of the GTC) and the other from Chief Robert Charlie of the Inuvik Native Band.

“But we didn’t hear a response from anybody else.”

As reported in Inuvik Drum, Town Council still has to sign off on the final design. The town hosted an open house in November where residents were able to see the three initial designs and mark their preference.

Devlin said the town should consider separating the design and engineering aspects into separate tenders, with the design being handled first and the engineering afterwards.

“This would give local artists an opportunity to come up with a hard design, or conceptual drawings – which could go to a selection jury made up of members of the extended indigenous and arts communities – or even better, to the public through a social media democratic vote,” he said. “As an individual design artist looking to create a multi-dimensional piece of public art that will still be here 50 years from now, I like to use a short two-week tender window to be creative, substantive and responsive to the feelings of the community.

“Not have to worry about figuring out a full municipal infrastructure budget and project-managing engineers and landscape designers through zoom calls – who may have never dealt with permafrost installations and arctic conditions. I don’t know of many local artists who could indeed pull that off, and if there happens to be one… we have an opening for an Executive Director at the Great Northern Arts Society.”

He added he had followed the process from the start and felt the town did its due-diligence with public consultation.

“I have no problem at all with the consultation process, nor the final decision on the design. While I don’t personally like it, I don’t hate it – and it works for its purpose,” he said. “I attended Tourism Stakeholder Meetings where we were given regular updates, and kept a close eye on social media and felt we were well-informed on progress and requests for feedback – which I provided. I also visited two high-profile public Town presentations set up in the Midnight Sun Complex (MSC.)

“I believe that the public had opportunity, had they looked for it, to participate in the decision process. The Town was front and centre at the MSC with some pretty slick and colourful presentations – I’m surprised more people didn’t stop by, even just out of curiosity.”

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Eric Bowling

A lover of knowledge and adventure, Eric Bowling jumped at the opportunity to write for the Inuvik Drum and to see the world from a totally different vantage point. He has covered just about everything...

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