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Arts in trouble in Parksville

The McMillan Arts Centre is in trouble - News file photo
The McMillan Arts Centre is in trouble
— image credit: News file photo

The McMillan Arts Centre (the MAC) building will be 100 years old next year, but as it stands there will be no grand celebration as there was for Qualicum Beach’s art centre last month.

In fact the centre is in dire straits and might not even make it that long.

Funding from the City of Parksville came through just in time to avoid reducing operating hours recently, but it may not be enough to keep the centre running for long.

“If we can’t come up with enough money to sustain (the arts centre) we’re good for about 2 months,” said vice president of the Oceanside Community Art Council (OCAC) Dave Klinger. “We would be out of it. We would probably shut the doors by Christmas time.”

Klinger said the OCAC was somewhat blindsided by the imminent prospect of closing its doors, when in the Spring they appeared to be doing fine.

But a number of things haven’t come together since then, he said, mainly grant money, and now the centre is scrambling for ways to raise funds.

Although the OCAC does get some funding from the City of Parksville, it isn’t enough, said board member of the OCAC Valerie Dare, adding the money makes up to only eight per cent of their operating costs.

Whereas the Town of Qualicum Beach owns the Old School House Arts Centre (TOSH) building and maintains it, the City of Parksville has no arts and culture building she said.

And similarly, the Regional District of Nanaimo owns Oceanside Place and Ravensong Aquatic Centre for recreation purposes, but they have no purpose-built arts and culture building for people in Oceanside, she said.

Dare has been looking to other arts centres for ideas and to see how they are managing, and the archetype in the province seems to be Golden’s Kicking Horse Culture.

Before Bill Usher came to the town of Golden there was no art gallery, simply an art council with office space where art could be hung. The musician used his knowledge, contacts and experience in Toronto to start building a vibrant art scene in Golden and after about 18 months of volunteering for the local arts council, he and the group went to town council and the regional director asking for some funds to continue. Local government could see the investment opportunities and the arts council was granted $60,000 for their core operating budget. Within a year it increased to $80,000 and last summer they signed a three-year multiyear agreement for $120,000 annually, which Usher said actually increases their budget to over $500,000.

“The big thing our local government has seen is that with a little bit of core support that gave the opportunity to put professional staff in place, so they could go out and then leverage third party funding which wasn’t unavailable to the local governments.”

A youtube video called Why Does Golden Invest in the Arts? with Golden’s mayor, a council member and the town’s Chief Administrative Officer spells it out plainly that investing in the arts not only attracts visitors but improves the quality of life for the residents.

“It’s an investment in social infrastructure, it’s building community capacity which is much different from building sidewalks and sewers (as) when you’re working on the physical infrastructure,” said town councillor Caleb Moss in the clip.  “So you’re building social infrastructure, you’re investing in people investing in people and that’s what arts and culture is all about.”

Usher said the art council, packaged together with the Art Gallery of Golden and the new brand Kicking Horse Culture, became a strategic partner for local government because they could help make Golden a great place to live, work and visit.

“That really was the bottom line promise that we made to our local folks,” he said. “That we were a community economic development organization and arts and culture was our modus operandi and they bought in to that and they and the community has all reaped the benefits.”

Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek said TOSH has found their niche and that’s why they are thriving. The town does maintain the building, he said, but often TOSH’s board of directors contributes to these costs. Executive director Corinne James has built up a strong support among the community with volunteers and members and the board has a positive relationship with the local business community.

“That’s a great combo,” he said. “If you can combine the business with the arts community that is a winner.”

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger said the city is not in the position to take over the McMillan Arts Centre or run it, or even give it any more funding. But they are helping out by suggesting grants that could be available to the group and he hopes the community can come together and show their support for the arts centre.

He suggested the OCAC could be modernized with fresh ideas including perhaps a performing arts component.

“I think there’s an opportunity in all of this to really come around and look at the whole situation we have in the city with to respect to arts and culture and rather than see this as a crises we should be looking at this as a chance to solidify that and hopefully galvanize some support in the vibrant arts and culture community that we have here.”

Joe Stanhope, chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Board said he couldn’t say why the RDN didn’t provide funding to The MAC, but to do so would end up costing the taxpayer.

“If you start opening the purse strings to this then who’s gonna pay?” he asked, “it’s going to be the tax payers.”

Although it won’t be easy, Dare said she hopes to celebrate the MAC’s centennial by introducing special events and accessible programing in visual arts, dance, music and drama. And the OCAC hopes to partner with local organizations for things like concerts, films and general community support.

“All this is going to be a challenge to overcome I think, but 2013, the centennial, is a really good focus for that to happen and so we’ll be trying to raise our profile and bring in more diverse programming for all ages.”

The OCAC will be doing a presentation to Parksville council on Monday looking for moral support, help with a business model and other expertise. They hope the public will come and support them and perhaps join forces to save the MAC and help create  a thriving arts centre.

“The whole point to this is can we save this 100 year old building and turn into an art centre that is a jewel, really in B.C. and maybe even in Canada, but particularly in Parksville. Can this become a place that is a destination for tourists?” Klinger asked.

The council meeting starts at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20.

 

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