The North Peace Cultural Society (NPCS) says they’re dismayed and shocked by the City of Fort St John’s decision to assume management of the cultural centre, as it equates to giving the boot to the daycare, art gallery, and more.
As of June 15, the society has 90 days to turn over control of the facility to the city.
City CAO Milo MacDonald penned an open letter on June 18, stating operations with the society ended in November 2020, and that the current arrangement was not working.
“The City assuming operations of the North Peace Cultural Centre furthers the development of a diverse arts and cultural community,” wrote MacDonald. “Many people have wondered about plans for moving forward.”
He added the city intends to list a job posting for an arts and culture manager next week, responsible for all aspects of programming - exhibits, performing and visual arts, film, food, lectures, story-telling, festivals and signature events.
“We aim to have this position filled as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition,” MacDonald wrote, noting all affected user groups will be consulted.
In addition, his release says the BCGEU has been tasked with providing transitional opportunities for those currently supporting the centre’s operation, and that a lease agreement is being discussed with the Fort St. John Public Library to ensure their viability.
Society Chair Connie Surerus addressed the takeover by letter on June 18, stating the city’s media release was not factual and created unnecessary anxiety for user groups, board members, staff, the arts community, and community at large.
“We are deeply disappointed and trouble by the way in which not only the North Peace Cultural Society has been treated this week, but the lack of regard and consideration for the arts community as a whole,” wrote Surerus, asking the city to reconsider negotiations in good faith or issue a 12 months’ notice under the terms of the previous agreement.
Her letter also states the city had failed in their responsibility to initiate a new agreement, and did not give the required time for negotiations, which should have begun in June 2020.
When asked, Surerus further noted MacDonald had requested a list of user groups and contact information, but again failed to give enough time.
“They weren’t giving us any time – I don’t think even if we had the list of names, it seemed they had no intention of proceeding,” said Surerus.
The management announcement came swiftly after, she added.
“They just launched into this idea that they wanted to run the centre, or they wanted to do the operations, they thought that it was too onerous for us to look after, managing the building and that we should then focus on programming,” said Surerus.
The society has managed the facility and everything encompassed within it since 1992, when the building was first created – 30 years of arts and culture history.
Surerus says the move was made with zero consultation and zero regard for the legacy of the facility, with nearly all of the working parts inside the building belonging to the society and related user groups.
“The board is both dismayed and obviously very disappointed with the notice they sent us on Monday,” said Surerus. “I think what’s disappointing on one level, is just the lack of regard for a volunteer board, for staff, and for the people involved – the arts community, the people who use the centre.”
Surerus joined the board in late 2014, helping to turn around a $100,000 deficit with her fellow members, recording a $100,000 surplus in June 2017.
“The fact that they couldn’t even take the time to meet with us and hear what we have to say, they based it on the information, or lack of information. We’re not even sure what they based it on,” she added.
Fort St John Arts Council President Rosemary Landry called the move a blindside, and is considering asking members to pen individual letters to the city.
“In general, we’re just really concerned with the lack of transparency,” said Landry. “It’s quite disruptive to a group after a very difficult year because of COVID. We really don’t have enough information from them as to what’s happening and what’s going forward.”
She further noted that a letter has already been sent to mayor and council on behalf of her organization.
“It’s really up in the air, and seems a harsh thing to happen. We thought everything was going quite well, there were some differences. But all of a sudden this letter arrives, and blindsided them,” noting she was aware NPCS was in talks with the city for a new five year use agreement.
Fort St John Mayor Lori Ackerman says the city will be reaching out to user groups as part of the transition.
“The city will be reaching out to the users of course, we couldn’t reach out to the users before giving notice,” Ackerman said, noting further timing will be released through their communications department.
“This is not an end to services, it’s an end to a management agreement,” she added.
We’re interested in the community’s feedback on the cultural centre. Please send your letters and comments to reporter Tom Summer at firstname.lastname@example.org, they can be anonymous if you so choose.