By Darren Lum
The JDHES student-led effort to have Haliburton-raised Olympian Lesley Tashlin and former CFLer Taly Williams added to the wall of athletes at the A.J. LaRue Arena has led to the creation of a new sub-committee.
There was plenty of deliberation at a recent Dysart et al cultural resource committee virtual meeting on Friday, April 23, which included the criteria selection for new murals, the approach to fundraising and for the message the municipality wanted to send to the public about what recognizing these athletes will do for the community.
Dysart Mayor Andrea Roberts said she appreciates the students’ efforts, which began with an email addressed to her and then led to the students’ presenting their case with background about the athletes’ achievements to council, who turned over the request to the Dysart Cultural Resource Committee to discuss the matter.
Roberts noted the first two athletes added were NHLers Ron Stackhouse and Bernie Nicholls, which was followed by two additional NHL players – Cody Hodgson and Matt Duchene – and a CFL player, Mike Bradley. The last three were made possible, as far as Roberts knows, due to a donation from an anonymous donor. Roberts said there wasn’t any knowledge about how the first two murals were funded.
The fact that there wasn’t any policy or outlined criteria is the issue.
“There was never a policy. There was never that sort of guideline. It’s left this request in sort of a limbo. Oh, what do we do with it? First of all we have no money. I can tell you … those last few [murals] were in the neighbourhood of $9,000 to $10,000 for an artist to do those murals … so at this point, while I commend those athletes and I really was thrilled that students looked at that, and it was about honouring all athletes – is the arena the best place to do that?” she said.
She added that before the meeting she spoke with Pat Kennedy, who is involved with efforts for a Haliburton Highlands Hall of Fame, which has been working on recognizing athletes, teams and builders.
“How do we determine who qualifies? And do we do anymore murals on the arena? We have those murals up now and that any athlete should go through the sports hall of fame. It’s come to our committee because it’s considered art on municipal property,” she said.
Committee member Jim Blake, who also sits on the sports hall of fame committee with Kennedy, said he believes “sports is part of our cultural fabric.”
He believes the municipality needs to establish a policy for who gets honoured and outline the process for how a mural is commissioned. Also, he recognizes there is a lack of funds for these additions, but said a process can be established to raise funds when a nominee is put forward. Blake said the hall of fame can serve as a resource for selection criteria, but that it should be an entirely different thing than the mural wall, which represents a community recognition.
Committee member Anna Babluck, who admitted to being new to the community, said she agrees with a need for structure related to policies, but sees an important component to this discussion that shouldn’t be missed.
“I’m assuming all the other murals are white athletes. Is that correct? Okay, I think we need to make sure that doesn’t slip through the cracks, is that that is really an important piece of identifying these athletes [and they] go up there to serve as role models for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Colour] children in our community and it’s really important to have that representation … if that’s the proposal on the table and we need to go through the process, whether it ends up being those athletes or others, I just don’t want to see that lost because of policy,” she said.
Roberts responded saying the first four of the five murals depicted NHL players.
“So, growing up in small-town rural Ontario that’s our population. It was not to discriminate. It wasn’t to leave anybody out. The criteria was basically because they were NHL, which is pretty incredible. So it’s not at all to discriminate in any way,” she said.
Babluck said that wasn’t her insinuation, but she wanted to make sure her point was addressed moving forward.
“I didn’t mean to imply that it was. From here going forward, it’s something we need to consider,” she said.
Committee member Pat Martin wondered how this issue could affect how other art is installed and applied to other municipal property.
In response to Roberts proposing an existing sub-committee to look at public art policy to include it in their meeting, Blake pointed out how this particular proposal needs to be examined on its own.
“We already have an outdoor gallery on the arena. So, we already set a precedent doing this. Pat’s point is great. So, how does this relate to other places, but right now there is already a gallery of murals representing athletes on the arena,” he said.
He said the students have raised the question about why two incredible athletes haven’t been recognized.
“That’s a piece that doesn’t belong in the public art policy. It’s really a policy about who is going to be recognized, which wouldn’t fall under the public art policy at all,” he said.
The committee then established a sub-committee to develop a recognition policy and criteria for who qualifies to appear on the wall of the A.J. LaRue Arena. It will include cultural resource committee members Victoria Bingham, Jim Blake, a hall of fame committee member, town council representative Nancy Wood-Roberts or Tammy Donaldson and a representative from JDHES.
The JDHES teacher, who facilitated this student effort, Marina Thomazo wrote in an email, “I think the process had a tendency to deviate from the questions we asked, from our end goal, but efficaciously numerous members of the committee chimed in and swerved back to what my students are pointing at, which is the inequity for those two Black athletes. Some members gave convincing food for thought that keeps the momentum.”
She wants to be part of the sub-committee and could also send colleague, teacher Mike van den Hengel, and said it will be difficult to choose one student from the class because there are “so many passionate ones.”
Once all the members are appointed the new sub-committee will meet to discuss the matter and then report to the Cultural Resource Committee in June.