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Letters: Arts council says city has no vision for cultural centre

The FSJ Community Arts Council says the city intentionally decided to throw the arts community into confusion and uncertainty.
culturalcentre
The North Peace Cultural Centre.

Dear Mayor and Council,

The Fort St. John Community Arts Council was surprised and disappointed at the recent announcement that City Council has decided not to renew the Management Services Agreement with the North Peace Cultural Society.  The Arts Council has always had a close relationship with the Cultural Centre, having initiated and spearheaded the drive to bring a theatre, art gallery and a new space for the library to Fort St. John, before turning the project over to the newly formed Cultural Society almost 35 years ago.

Since that time, we have seen thousands of people enjoy the events, performances and activities that have been presented in the Centre.  Generations of young dancers, singers and musicians have performed on the stage, community theatre has entertained sold out audiences, children have enjoyed a variety of arts camps, classes and activities and many professional artists have come to Fort St. John, attracted by a professional quality theatre.  In 2001 and 2016, the Centre welcomed the province to Fort St. John for the BC Festival of Arts and the Performing Arts BC Provincial Festival.  Many of our member groups depend on the Centre as a presentation space for a wide range of artistic pursuits.

For 30 years, the North Peace Cultural Society has managed a vibrant and active arts venue and has engaged with the local arts groups to give them the best opportunities to perform and showcase their art.  Through some difficult years, the people who cared most about the arts used the community-based nature of the Society to step up to correct mistakes and respond to the needs of the artists, arts groups and audiences.  In recent years, the Cultural Centre has remained active, busy and is financially stable, even through the restrictions imposed by the health regulations of the past year.  The Society has shown that arts and culture is best served by community members who have an interest, knowledge and love of the arts.  There is also no doubt that a management agreement with a non-profit society is the most cost effective way of running the Centre.

It is very disappointing that City Council has taken this step with no direct communication or consultation with either the North Peace Cultural Society or the many arts groups that have used the Cultural Centre over the years.  The City has not given any specific vision or plan for the operation of the Cultural Centre and has chosen, instead, in the late stages of a pandemic that has devastated the performing arts in particular, to throw the arts community into confusion and uncertainty.  This absence of transparency or effort to understand the history and operations of the Centre, and, frankly, the lack of respect for a non-profit organization that has served the community for 35 years, is very concerning to anyone involved in the arts and who values the contribution that the Cultural Society has made to this community.

It is our hope that City Council members will take the time to talk to the Cultural Society board members as well as Arts Council member groups to get a more balanced understanding of the operation and life of the Cultural Centre before taking such a drastic step that is so upsetting to so many residents of this City.  A better understanding of the City’s vision for arts and culture, for the Cultural Centre Society, could lead to additional efficiencies in management services provided by the Society.

Yours Sincerely,

Rosemary Landry

President, Fort St. John Community Arts Council

We’re interested in the community’s feedback on the cultural centre. Please send your letters and comments to reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca, they can be anonymous if you so choose.