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Opposing views surface at community meeting for Yarmouth’s proposed arts centre


Proposed facility to cost $25 million, potentially funded in part by provincial and federal governments

YARMOUTH - An arts and culture centre proposed for the Collins Street parking lot location in Yarmouth remains a controversial issue. Those for and against it had a chance to express their opinions during a community meeting at the Rood Grand Hotel on July 5.

Project consultants MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Windmill Bight Ventures Inc., and McInnes Cooper, all hired by the Town of Yarmouth, presented the results of a concept design, feasibility cost study and board governance framework consultation.

For the first time, a cost estimate was provided for the proposed facility - $25 million, to be potentially funded by federal, provincial and local sources.  Another hot topic – the fact that the new facility would be on an existing parking lot - was addressed. The conceptual design includes 30-54 parking spaces along the perimeter of the open courtyard.

After the presentations, members of the audience were invited to step up to the mic and voice their opinions to project consultants. Here’s what followed.

Shonda Irving

“Lots of times with phases, you see timelines. I haven’t heard a lot about those and when you project (estimate) project costs, timelines are important because that changes.”

She also commented on the architect’s mention of using brick as a primary building material.

“I don’t see stone mentioned in the plan. There’s a lot of stone around the coastline. The brick speaks to me more of institution.”

Brian MacKay-Lyons replied:

“She expressed her views and I appreciated it.”

Phillip Ready: “There are 600 members of the present YARC and you did point out that reconciling with Th’YARC would be critical to moving forward.”
Phillip Ready: “There are 600 members of the present YARC and you did point out that reconciling with Th’YARC would be critical to moving forward.”

Phillip Ready, former president of the Yarmouth Arts Regional Council (YARC).

“There are 600 members of the present YARC and you did point out that reconciling with Th’YARC would be critical to moving forward.

“So you see yourself finding funding provincially, federally, without them in the sense that they already have a non-profit status with the province and are presently funded on a three-year funding program with the province, and have a 40-year history of providing the arts to this community.

This has somehow become a town project.”

Cheryl Hodder, a senior partner with McInnes Cooper law firm, replied:

“All that I can say is that the people we consulted with had great enthusiasm for this project. At the same time they said it was important to have some reconciliation or meeting of the minds with the people related to Th’YARC. This is very early stages. We talked about transparency, engagement, communication. As a consultant, our recommendation would be to continue with that to see if there could be some sort of reconciliation.”

Artist Kellianne Land commented on the design.

“I don’t think there’s enough organic nature to it. I find it very straight. I think the courtyard lacks seating, not many people are going to sit on the steps. There’s lots of fog in this community and steps aren’t always a good place to sit. Finding people to do rooves with shingles is really difficult around here.”

Howard Rhyno: “You’re dreaming in colour. If something’s not done soon to bring jobs to these places, we’re not going to have an arts centre.”
Howard Rhyno: “You’re dreaming in colour. If something’s not done soon to bring jobs to these places, we’re not going to have an arts centre.”

Howard Rhyno said he loved the presentation but also stressed the importance of jobs first.

“You’re dreaming in colour. If something’s not done soon to bring jobs to these places, we’re not going to have an arts centre. You’re basing it on tourism, the Cat. Which government is going to keep it, which government is going to get rid of it? Show us some numbers without the Cat, without the tourism.”

Sean Sturge, principal with Windmill Bight Ventures Inc., responded:

“The Cat’s got to stay. It’s critical to the town of Yarmouth and the region thriving. Not just surviving, not just sustaining but thriving.”

Belle Hatfield says she’s watched the evolution of the arts centre vision becoming a little more concrete with each meeting.

“I think what I’m hearing you say Sean (Sturge) is that a creative community can be job creating.

This (issue) is very controversial and it’s created a lot of rifts in the community.

Belle Hatfield: “It’s not a done deal – we as a community have got to walk through the door united or it’s not going to get done.”
Belle Hatfield: “It’s not a done deal – we as a community have got to walk through the door united or it’s not going to get done.”

I’m really fearful that if we don’t find common ground and continue to move this project forward, we’ll lose an opportunity that might take two generations to retrieve. It’s not a done deal – we as a community have got to walk through the door united or it’s not going to get done.”

She urged consultants involved in the project to talk with Th’YARC’s membership and board of directors to work their values and needs into the process.

Cheryl Hodder responded:

“We reached out to many people who are members of Th’YARC or leadership. Some individuals agreed to speak, others did not. There’s very much a willingness on the part of the steering committee for this project to sit down and hear from people about their concerns in a respectful, managed way and provide that input into the project.

Greg Doucette says he’s been a member of the community for 40 years.

Greg Doucette:  “Tonight, I hear a board talk about how important it is that the tourists have high-class amenities to watch their arts while our town holds a 40 per cent child poverty rate.”
Greg Doucette: “Tonight, I hear a board talk about how important it is that the tourists have high-class amenities to watch their arts while our town holds a 40 per cent child poverty rate.”

“What I have seen is a steady decline in youth, a steady decline in economy. Tonight, I hear a board talk about how important it is that the tourists have high-class amenities to watch their arts while our town holds a 40 per cent child poverty rate. Why are we catering so much to tourists to boost our economy? Why are we dumping $25 million to do so and why can’t we sustain ourselves and bring up a future generation? We have youth that are obviously overlooked. Not one of you spoke about our children – where they’re going to be and what they’re going to do and whether they can even afford this facility when it opens. Our voices are not heard. We’re here as bystanders.”

Peggy Greene says she didn’t grow up in Yarmouth, but chose to come here.

“This town has great potential. I wouldn’t have come here close to 40 years ago if it didn’t. My sons have had amazing experiences, some of which were very low cost. I think as much as there may be naysayers, it’s time for people to look at all of the positive things that can happen.”

Artist Dan Earle stepped up to say that the visual arts and crafts people fully support the downtown location.

“We are one of the groups that provide a 12-month fee to this kind of facility. Most of us meet monthly. We work with children and have a constant flow of things put on by the visuals and crafts people. We don’t have any place right now that’s suitable for most of our work.

“The other aspect is when you think about the downtown location, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (located next to the proposed arts centre) is one of the key elements in this town. We brought close to 2,000 children in the past couple of years just to see the shows and to run our activities with. Downtown there are also a number of art galleries.”

Deanna McCarron: “Not all kids have to grow up and move away. If we create a really vibrant community, which I think this is going to become part of, that’s the best thing we can do for our youth.”
Deanna McCarron: “Not all kids have to grow up and move away. If we create a really vibrant community, which I think this is going to become part of, that’s the best thing we can do for our youth.”

Deanna McCarron has lived in Yarmouth for 20 years. She started a non-profit organization (KIDZACT) about 15 years ago. She first commended the design team.

“I for one do not want to live in a community that’s stagnant. I’ve done my part to think big. I know a lot of people have questions about the statistics you’ve put up on the board but my organization is dance, performing arts, and from what I’ve seen with working with all the children, I see that they get excited about this. Personally, my own children have grown up here and they now work in our businesses. Not all kids have to grow up and move away. If we create a really vibrant community, which I think this is going to become part of, that’s the best thing we can do for our youth.”

Amber d’Entremont moved away seven years ago to Toronto become a professional contemporary dancer at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

“I wouldn’t have moved if we had this centre back in the day. There would have been opportunity. Currently I’m trying to create a new dance company because I want to give that opportunity for the youth in Yarmouth. But we’re doing it out of my tiny studio. Imagine what we could achieve with this centre. We could have live accompanist with our dancers. We do not have a space where all the visual artists and more can combine. We want the youth here. Why would they stay in a town with no art?”

Julie Bancroft to proposed new arts and culture centre project team members: “I was quite disappointed that you talked to 17 people out of 6,500,” referring to the population of Yarmouth.
Julie Bancroft to proposed new arts and culture centre project team members: “I was quite disappointed that you talked to 17 people out of 6,500,” referring to the population of Yarmouth.

Julie Bancroft moved here eight years ago from British Columbia.

“We came as tourists, looked around and loved it. The reasons I came here were certainly not the reasons you are giving tonight. The reasons are the people, the incredible friendliness and kindness. I didn’t come here to look at galleries, frankly there are a lot better galleries in towns and cities I’ve lived in. Th’YARC is here. They have a theatre now with about 340 seats. They have purchased somewhere else (Arcadia School) and are building on 15 acres where there’s room for all. If that process goes ahead, the community’s going to be split on that.

I was quite disappointed that you talked to 17 people out of 6,500. I don’t understand why, after this amount of time, you didn’t talk to every business on Main Street to see what they think.” 

Th’YARC and the town have been at odds over the proposed new facility.

President Mitch Bonnar says the biggest issue remains governance of the facility.

He says project consultants have talked to several YARC members who provided their concerns, but that the consultants ignored them.

He added that he is not averse to a facility being downtown and never was, but not on the Collins Street site.

“I’m open to discussions, I always have been. I don’t know at this point what we can do. We’ve made a purchase of a building so I don’t know how we’re going to fix that now,” he said.

He referred to the town’s arts & culture centre project as a “dog and pony show and a very expensive one.”

“If they want to build the centre, go ahead. I don’t know how in the hell they think it’s going to work, when 90 per cent of the public don’t want it.”

The next step for the project is for town council and staff to review and analyze project reports and recommendations.

Phase One activities will still be on-going over this period, which includes developing various operating revenue and cost models for consideration. There will also be a follow-up community presentation, yet to be scheduled, on the operational model and economic impact assessment.

Mayor Pam Mood says she hopes more people turn out for future meetings.

“I hope 6,500 show up in the room.”

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