Why Vernon is moving forward with arts and culture facilities — and Kamloops isn't | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why Vernon is moving forward with arts and culture facilities — and Kamloops isn't

FILE PHOTO - Sagebrush Theatre.
October 29, 2018 - 3:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - The arts and culture sector has been sprouting in many different ways across the tournament capital city.

The Kamloops Art Gallery has been in the community for more than 40 years, there's the Kamloops Courthouse Art Gallery and the back-alley art gallery.

Not to mention there are also live music, art, and performances across the city on a weekly basis.

The arts industry across the province has been expanding for years. The number of artists across B.C. has increased by 74 per cent from 1989 to 2013, however there still appears to be hesitancy to expand this industry in Kamloops. 

In 2015, the City of Kamloops asked its residents through a referendum whether they would support the city borrowing $49 million to build a performing arts centre and parkade.

The total price tag for the facility was $90 million and worked out to cost each household roughly $40 in extra taxes for the next twenty years.

The Nov. 7, 2015 referendum saw roughly 53 per cent of people who cast a ballot voted ‘no’ to the centre.

FILE PHOTO - Artist's rendering of the proposed performing arts centre slated for 393 Seymour Street.
FILE PHOTO - Artist's rendering of the proposed performing arts centre slated for 393 Seymour Street.
Image Credit: Business Case

The biggest concerns appear to have been costs and that Kamloops was too small for a performing arts centre. Kamloops has a population of roughly 90,000 and the city's official community plan predicts the population to hit 120,000 by 2039.

The city of Vernon is roughly half the size of Kamloops with a population roughly at 40,000 and recently, Vernon residents voted in favour of funding a $40 million Greater Vernon Cultural Centre — different than a performing arts centre — which would cost the average household $48 a year in taxes.

The centre will house a 150- to 200-seat performance space, meeting rooms, classrooms, workshop spaces, a gift shop and the Greater Vernon Museum Archives as well as the Vernon Public Art Gallery will both move in.

This is in addition to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre which was built in 2001. Even smaller cities in comparison to Kamloops like Revelstoke with a population just over 6,700 has a performing arts centre.

So, how did the city of Kamloops end up with more people saying no than yes in 2015 to a facility that would support a growing industry?

Kamloops city councillor Kathy Sinclair, who is also the executive director of the Kamloops Arts Council, believes the strong support for Vernon's cultural centre was approved because Vernon's art gallery representatives made it clear they needed a new space.

"There was a physical need for a cultural centre in Vernon," Sinclair says, adding the current infrastructure for the Vernon Public Art Gallery had been experiencing leaks from the ceiling and had limited storage space.

It's not to say that Kamloops doesn't have any venues for performing arts. There is the Sandman Centre which seats 6,400, the Sagebrush Theatre which seats 685, The Rex which seats 80, and Pavilion Theatre which seats 165.

The problem, says Sinclair, is that these facilities either need upgrades, are usually booked by community art groups sharing the same facility, or are designed to host sporting events. During the 2015 referendum, community art groups expressed the need for more stage space throughout the city.

She adds that there is an immediate need for a performing arts centre that would be used as a multi-purpose facility to bring in concerts, out of town acts and support local art groups.

"There's this perception that people think the arts aren't for everyone... but we all participate in art on some level," she says. "Whether that's music, dance, theatre, visuals arts... art is for everyone.

In the past, Sinclair has said it's because referendums do better when they are led by community groups as opposed to the city.

"I think that's really a model for success... rather than a municipality leading it, you have a group of people and there's much greater ability to apply for grants through Canadian Heritage as well as through the province," she says. "In the last performing arts centre reiteration, eventually a society was supposed to take it over but I think that would have been a stronger pitch if that had happened earlier."

Currently, there is a city-led proposal for a cultural facility at the old Stuart Wood elementary school in downtown Kamloops which would be in partnership with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc.

The City of Kamloops will also be updating the cultural strategic plan in 2019.

"The last one was done in 2003 and Kamloops has evolved a lot since then," she says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Karen Edwards or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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