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Letters: City takeover of cultural centre a 'conflict of interest'

Netflix star Mason Temple is calling for the city to reverse their takeover of the cultural centre.
culturalcentre
The North Peace Cultural Centre.

Dear Fort St. John City Council,

My name is Mason Temple and I am a 25 year-old actor who grew up in Fort St. John. You may know me from that one Netflix show I’m in that my mom won’t stop telling people about. I am writing to you today to voice my concerns about the recent news regarding the North Peace Cultural Centre’s management, to voice my support for the NPC Society, and to share with you what that building means to someone like me. I’ll start with the latter.

My grandma, Willa Temple, was one of the original supporters in FSJ who lobbied for the creation of the NPCC. Since its creation, thousands have passed through its doors, from wanting to borrow a book from the library, to viewing and purchasing art from local artists, to going out and enjoying a night at the theatre. The NPCC has been a community stronghold for arts and culture in FSJ, a gathering place for different stories and ideas, and a safe place for like-minded artists. To be honest, outside of my own childhood bedroom, there was not a single other building in the city in which I felt safe or belonged. Not at school, not at Wal-Mart, and especially not walking around town. The NPCC was my dojo, a second home for me and many, many others, and I wouldn’t have the career or life I have today without the hours I’ve spent on it’s stage acting, singing, and yes, even tap dancing. I am a product of that building, and will always love that place.

With that said, it was deeply concerning to hear from former colleagues and friends in the community about the recent change of management for the cultural centre. I will concede that there isn’t a thought in my mind that the city has any malicious intent in talking over the management of the NPCC, quite the opposite in fact. I am well aware of the plans to revitalize the community with the Centennial Park stage and the reno of 100th and 100th, both awesome projects that I am very happy to hear about. However, in my time in Fort St. John, I never once thought to myself, “If only the bureaucracy of municipal government were managing this place, that would fix all of the problems.” I can tell you personally that building needs help. The new seats for the theatre were an excellent beginning, but as the only major bastion of arts and culture in FSJ, it deserves so much more love and support, mainly in the form of funding. Ah, yes, I’ve heard that one before; underfunded arts and culture. A classic.

My concerns with the recent decision to take over management of the NPCC were only deepened after reading the June 16th article on energeticcity.ca by John Flatters where he reports the North Peace Cultural Society director Baptiste Marcere was left “puzzled” by the lack of communication from the city over the decision, despite being in negotiations. As of writing this letter, there are still many unanswered questions in regards to the future of the current programming slate that, to my understanding, have been ignored. Something that I also cannot help but raise an eyebrow at is the fact that Mayor Lori Ackerman’s husband, Andy Ackerman, is the Vice-Chair of the Fort St. John Public Library Board of Trustees, which to me feels like a conflict of interest considering how the FSJ Public Library leases space from whoever manages the NPCC. Lastly, there is something that feels wrong, for a lack of a better word, about decisions being made on the North Peace Cultural Centre by city officials that to my knowledge haven’t spent their blood and tears in the work that goes into the arts that take place there. Perhaps that’s the tribalistic artist in me talking, and it very well could be, but the city was never there for me in my development as an artist. It was the arts community of FSJ at large that developed me, took care of me, and created a space for me to grow and exist in a place where I thought I would never belong. It just doesn’t feel right that those people will be replaced by a single municipal arts director representing the city government. If Sue Popesku were still around and offered the job maybe I’d feel different, but as it stands right now, it just doesn’t feel right nor (and most importantly) necessary. Besides, and let’s be honest folks, when has government controlling arts and culture ever worked out well? Okay, maybe the House Hippo PSA, that was a Canadian classic, but that’s pretty much it.

The North Peace Cultural Centre is a beloved community space. I think all who have passed through it’s doors for one reason or another can say that it deserves the utmost care and, as always with arts and culture, more funding, but I cannot say that I believe a city takeover in management would solve any of it’s most pressing issues. I am calling for city council to reverse their decision about taking over management of the North Peace Cultural Centre and to reopen negotiations with the NPCC Society and meet in an open public forum for the benefit of the community which they both serve.

Cheers, Mason T

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.