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Sculptor says pay up
Somba K'e centerpiece creator looking for $45,000 from city

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sculptor Francois "T-Bo" Thibault says the city still owes him money for the centre piece work of art that has been adorning the Somba K'e Civic Plaza since August, 2009, and he wants it to pay up.

The six-metre-tall structure consisting of three stylized steel drummers, title United in Celebration, provided the backdrop for the 2010 Olympics torch relay in Yellowknife and the visit last year from Prince William and his wife Catherine Middleton.

The city acknowledges that money is still owing - a considerably smaller amount, however from what Thibault is seeking - but won't be able to pay the outstanding amount of $13,281 until 2013. The city has paid Thibault $32,000 to date.

Thibault told city council at a municipal services committee meeting Monday that he's still owed $45,000 in wages and labour for 900 hours of work between 2008 and 2009.

"The only thing left over is the city's contribution to wages, which started in 2008 and 2009 before the economy tanked," said Thibault. "For the little I am asking for, and considering what we have done, so far, it really is minute in the big picture."

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said the issue stems from 2008 when the city wanted to create a games cauldron as a legacy project for the Arctic Winter Games, which took place in Yellowknife that year. At the time, two local artists applied for the project and Thibault's concept won. The city subsequently budgeted $22,000 to contribute to the project and to help put in the statue's base for him. Thibault was to be further compensated from private investments from several local businesses, $10,000 in territorial government SEED (Support to Entrepreneurs and Economic Development) money, and in-kind donations of materials for the display.

"He had assured everybody there was no problem and that he would be able to raise money and that it shouldn't cost anybody anything," said Van Tighem.

"So it proceeded and he was passionate about it and he devoted a lot of his life to putting this thing together."

In 2009 after the recession hit, however, a number of contributors backed out of their initial financial pledges. As a result, Van Tighem said he advised Thibault on ways to raise money, collect it and have it receipted for tax purposes through either a new arts foundation or the Yellowknife Community Foundation. The selling of legacy plaques on the sculpture was one way of raising money.

"I went down there (to the sculpture) with him and we figured out how many plaques and how much could be raised and introduced him to the community foundation and they gave him some money," said Van Tighem.

Thibault said the statue, which he claims remains under his ownership until the city has paid off the remaining money owed to him, will be turned over to the city and money generated from future sales of plaques could go toward promoting local artists for the city and perhaps one day having a much needed arts centre.

Van Tighem said even though the budget process for 2013 has not yet begun, the city is looking to fulfil the final costs of the project.

Thibault said the city still owes him an additional $51,000 for the next phase of the project, which will include a special coat of paint that changes colour, some electrical lighting and a musical score.

He doesn't anticipate getting that full amount from the city, however, as he is already fundraising and hoping to close deals with area businesses for sponsorships.

"The balance I am asking for is the city's part of the bargain and once I am able to receive that, I will be able to fundraise for the balance and turn it over to the city," said Thibault.

In Monday's city memorandum, there is an invoice of $45,281, - not to be confused with the amount Thibault says the city owes him in back payments for the first phase of the project - which is the figure currently planned for in the next budget of which $32,000 has already been paid.

"If it carries forward, there will be something for him to finish the project. What he is looking for, though, is something this year," said Van Tighem.

The mayor said he still awaits two invoices from Thibault to find out if the sculptor is, in fact, owed the amount he states.

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