A tale of two arts centres


In case you’re wondering and /or worrying about  what happened  to the old IGA building downtown, it is making way for the future — the future of the arts in Lethbridge.

But like everything good, it takes time and a little bit of money, though not as much as you might think. Because soon, construction will begin on a new community arts centre designed to replace the Bowman Arts Centre and help complete an ‘arts corridor ’ in the downtown core which will cater to all members of  the increasAn artist’s depiction of the new Lethbridge Community Arts Centre. Photo submitteding population and corresponding number of people involved in the arts including visual artists, actors, dancers, quilters, potters and musicians.

The Community Arts Centre project is part two of of a three pronged investment in the arts in Lethbridge, which began with the recently  completed refurbishment and renovation of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

“The Arts facilities are inadequate in the terms of how many people use them and the capacity of the buildings, ” said Suzanne Lint, Allied Arts Council executive director adding facilities like the Yates Centre and the Bowman Arts Centre were developed back in the ’60s, when Lethbridge’s population hovered around 30,000, now, some 40 years later, outside acts can’t even get a booking at the Yates and the Bowman Arts Centre is bursting at the scenes.
So with this in mind, the Allied Arts Council and Lethbridge City Council got together about four or five years ago to formulate a plan  to address this issue.

The first step was completed in September with the completion of $3.9 million worth of renovations to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery which added additional space to the reception and display areas, a new loading dock as well as a new library space among other changes.

The second step is the new community arts centre.
“The Bowman Arts Centre is a great old building. But it’s cramped and packed to the rafters,” Lint said adding a number of organizations have so many members that the Bowman isn’t large enough to hold them all.

 The new community arts centre will rectify this situation. It is in the midst of  final designs from  two architecture firms — Ferrari-Westwood-Babits from Lethbridge and Pendergast from Calgary.

After the designs are completed,  the project will be tendered and is expected to be completed in December 2012. The two story, 30,000 new square foot facility will include multi-purpose rooms, rooms for dance, photography, quilters, 3-D studios for  clay and sculpture, 2D studios for drawing, painting and printmaking, a kiln, textiles, a wood workshop plus exhibition spaces and rooms which can even be transformed into a theatre for groups like symphonies,   and the University of Lethbridge Conservatory as well as theatrical productions. It will allow room for classes in all kinds of the arts for community members to enroll in.

This project will cost - $6 million federal funds, $14 million in provincial funds and $200,000  from the City of Lethbridge according to Lint.

An artist’s depiction of the new Lethbridge Community Arts Centre. Photo submitted
“It’s taxpayer’s money, but it’s money that is coming back to Lethbridge rather than going to Red Deer or some place,” said Allied Arts Council communications co-ordinator Ashley Markus emphasizing the Community Arts Centre is definitely not the same as the third step of this  investment in the arts — the proposed new performing Arts Centre.

The performing arts centre project will be much more expensive so it is still being examined for cost feasibility by a panel of Allied Arts Council members, community members and city council, who are examining all aspects of funding for this project  from grants to corporate donation, not only for the construction costs, but ongoing maintenance costs as well.

It is likely to go on the same site next to the new community arts centre.
 Markus said because the performing arts centre is designed to host acts which are too big for the Yates and too small to play the Enmax,  ensuring  the best quality sound is what will make it so expensive.
“It will be an expensive project. It is a major capital expenditure,” Lint observed.

“The Yates is a wonderful building, but it’s outdated. It is an auditorium rather than a theatre and it’s booked solid,” Markus continued, adding the Yates seats 500 people, while the Enmax seats 3,000 for concerts.

But the Community Arts Centre is the one to focus on now.
“Two years seems like a long time but it goes by fast,” said Lint, adding the centre will be a much needed boost to Lethbridge’s thriving arts community.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
A version of this article appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of Downtown Magazine
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