I don't think Frankie "Venom" Kerr would have liked a politician telling him the themes for his songs.
By Santo Barbieri
Published April 18, 2014
On November 19, 2013, Councillor Brian McHattie and City staff presented a project for a statue in Victoria Park to the Strathcona Community Council (SCC). The proposed art piece has a budget of $200,000, which was set aside for a Public Art project in Victoria Park in 2011 by Councillor McHattie as part of Ward 1 area rating monies.
The project is named The Frankie Venom Art Project after the late singer of Teenage Head. Die-hard fans may not believe this but many in this city don't know who Frankie "Venom" Kerr is.
Tom Wilson (the musician) and his daughter Madeline Wilson (his tour manager) presented the idea for the project to Councillor McHattie. Madeline Wilson is also the daughter of Ward 1 candidate Sandie Shaw. Councillor McHattie was kind enough to attend Madeline's stag and doe earlier this year.
According to the SCC president Jonathan Therien, there is strong support from the community according to his research as an employee at Rolly Rockets bar/grill.
Ken Coit (City of Hamilton, Art in Public Places Coordinator) wrote, "based on my work so far and the comments of the Focus Group he (Frankie) had a meaningful connection with many Strathcona residents and the park is at the Centre of the neighbourhood."
My first thought was, "Does that include the large number of Italians, Portuguese, Greeks and Asians who live in the area and who are also tax payers?"
I asked Mr. Coit to show me the research he used to support his statement. He didn't reply to my request.
I contacted Councillor McHattie regarding this issue and once again no reply. Tom Wilson was interviewed on CHML (scroll down to Scott Thompson files) by fan and host Scott Thompson this week and he had a great idea about health care for artists but failed to show the relevance to the statue expenditures.
He also failed to mention that statues like that of Stevie Ray Vaughan in Austin, TX were entirely paid by private money.
A focus group was formed by Councillor McHattie and the Wilsons with one neighbourhood resident who isn't on the SCC. Members of Frankie's family attended the Focus Group meeting and strong support for the project was the final result.
The SCC endorsed the project despite the fact they have no authority to do so on behalf of the citizens of Strathcona. The SCC claims to be the voice of the community, but it sounds like the voice of Brian McHattie to me.
The Victoria Park Public Art Competition - Strathcona Community Council Report states, "Frankie Venom rose to national and international fame" and "inspired a generation of national and international musicians" and "Councillor McHattie suggested a bike rack project honouring other local musicians."
International fame is just as questionable as, "Few are aware of this outside of Hamilton, let alone around the world. Yet Hamilton ranks with London and New York City as the Canadian city with the most profound contribution to one of the most significant, international counter-cultural movements of the 20th century," written by Ryan Moran (volunteer on McHattie campaign) in his Raise the Hammer article.
Wow! What a claim to fame. If few are aware of it outside of Hamilton, it may be because it's not true.
The same aforementioned report also makes mention that: "Two members of the SCC volunteered to be part of the project jury." I asked Ken Coit if I could be a juror and what the procedure was to be a juror. He didn't reply to my request.
Further, the Report concludes, "The group enthusiastically supported the proposal." The beginning of the Report by the SCC uses the term "proposed theme" and the Report ends, "It is anticipated that this work will be completed in early 2014". It started with a proposed theme and ended with a done deal.
Councillor McHattie stated in a Hamilton Spectator article, "The decision has been made. We are moving ahead. I can't see any substantive problems."
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people who are footing the bill for the project didn't have a clue about it. The project came to my attention through an email sent by the SCC sent on December 20, 2013 for the project and was buried among other items with a link for more details. Why was the information sent around Christmas and a month after the meeting?
According to local artist and gallery owner Bryce Kanbara, "In no other of the City's competitions has the subject of the sculpture for a site been as predetermined. Notwithstanding Frankie Venom's contribution to Hamilton, there should be an open process where a range of possible subjects and themes could be presented and discussed. This is the way in which other public art projects have been coordinated - the criteria for sculptures are general to allow artists the opportunity to respond with creative ideas."
Again I tried to get a response from Councillor McHattie about this issue in February of 2014 and he refused to reply. So I started a door-to-door petition against the project for all of the above reasons. So far about 99% of those contacted have signed it.
Until the recent Spectator articles I estimate 95% of the residents I spoke to didn't know about the project. So far, I have gathered about 170 signatures in the neighbourhood.
According to Tom Wilson, those opposed to the idea "have no love in their hearts." I believe the SCC and Councillor McHattie were trying to keep a lid on the project to prevent the uproar which is now occurring. That uproar went viral when The Spectator first reported the story on this past Saturday. But an uproar had already begun in the Strathcona neighbourhood before that article.
Many who knew Frankie the man, not the musician, claimed he had few redeeming qualities as this article written by a veteran Canadian music journalist displays.
Presumably, after several emails and complaints which have stemmed from my petition, Councillor McHattie wanted to meet with me privately and contacted me. I refused his offer as I thought it would be unethical to meet in private over an issue which clearly needs to be discussed in an open and public forum.
The SCC and Councillor McHattie set a date for a public meeting on Thursday, April 17, 2014. Here was my response: "The date you chose for a public meeting falls on the same night as the Strathcona School Council meeting and the night beginning a long weekend. If you are interested in minimizing the turn out it's a great night. I prefer to maximize the turnout so you can get a fair idea of what people think of your proposed art project. How about the following week?"
Councillor Merulla in this Spectator article would agree with me.
Jonathan Therien, the president of the SCC responded, "Being the Thursday before Easter Weekend is not a conflict and it should not be presented as one."
The raison d'être of any community council is to help facilitate information between the councillor and the community. There is no mention about the meeting on the SCC website and they have ignored my request to help me with flyers to inform the neighbourhood.
Any citizen of Hamilton interested in adding their name to an online petition can do so.
Councillor McHattie has expressed that the Frankie Venom Public Art Memorial is to be the first of a series of statues honouring Hamilton Artists. I think the best way to honour Hamilton artists is to stop dictating the themes on which to base their art. I don't think Frankie "Venom" Kerr would have liked a politician telling him the themes for his songs.
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