This weekend — Sunday, April 4 — marks the one-year-anniversary of a cancelled city referendum on borrowing to build the proposed Kamloops Centre for the Arts.
Following months — years, if one goes back to the previously rejected project — of planning, the referendum was swept up among cancellations as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
At the time, cancellation was considered by some to be postponement.
However, it will need to be officially resurrected.
In light of the anniversary, KTW checked in with those involved in the project to reflect on what happened and weigh in on the future.
Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society president Norm Daley said, despite vaccination ramping up, the world is not back to normal and unknowns remain, such as variants.
He said the arts centre society needs to meet and discuss the future of the project. The group met through the fall and sent updates to its 5,000 members. Looking back, he cited “great momentum” heading into the cancelled referendum last year.
“I think it’s something that can come back to the forefront, it’s just when is the correct time and when is the political will at all levels of government there?” Daley asked.
“Because in our original proposal, we needed the help of every level of government to move something of this scope forward.”
Political will appears to be alive and well in Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian, who wants to see a referendum on the issue attached to the next municipal election, which will be held in October 2022.
Christian said no one was more disappointed than he when the referendum was cancelled last year. He wants community conversation around the arts centre to restart.
Christian said lessons can be learned from the pandemic — such as the need to include broadcasting abilities in the facility, due to increased demand for streaming performances online. He also suggested the facility utilize British Columbia lumber and be designed to high environmental standards.
Christian said artists have lost audiences and revenue during the pandemic and he hopes grants will come from upper levels of government to support them. In addition, he hopes grants will also help the city construct the Kamloops Centre for the Arts.
He wants to engage the community on tweaks, watch for those grant opportunities and take the proposal to add the question to the ballot in 2022 to council for authorization.
“That’s what I would like to see and that’s what I will be supporting going forward,” Christian said.
Arts centre society director Tyson Andrykew said putting the question on borrowing on the civic election ballot in 2022 would eliminate cost of an additional referendum and give the society time to plan.
“Having it on a municipal election ballot, I think it’s a great opportunity,” Andrykew said.
“I think the timeline kind of works, right? A year-and-a-half from now. I think that’s plenty of time to get a glimpse into how the economic recovery is going and for a few things to get ironed out.”
Meanwhile, Daley said one issue that could arise, should the question be put on the civic electon ballot, is candidates being asked whether they support or oppose the project.
“Sometimes I think that having the standalone question might be better than trying to politicize it in other ways,” he said.
Andrykew said the committee put in a lot of work leading up to the cancelled referendum. He said the group completed dozens of presentations and held open houses for community groups, boards of directors and associations. He said most of the work had been done, noting the difficulty was that they were so close to referendum time and feeling confident.
“For it to all culminate in a postponement and/or cancellation, it was pretty heartbreaking,” Andrykew said. “It’s really too bad. I don’t reflect on it often because I don’t like to reflect on it. It’s too bad. My heart really aches for the arts groups specifically that were so looking forward to this project.
“They’re the real users of it and, for them, to kind of be in limbo and for [proponent] Mr. [Ron] Fawcett as well, who put such an incredible effort behind it himself, it’s tough.”
Arts centre society director and Western Canada Theatre artistic director James MacDonald said the pandemic has provided perspective. He said when the time is right, the community will look to gather together again — through sports, community events, fundraisers, festivals and the arts.
“I think we’ll be just raring to go in the next few years as a community,” MacDonald said.
He said local artists still need a Kamloops Centre for the Arts and that, as the community continues to grow, demand increases.
“The arts infrastructure that we’re missing isn’t just a theatre space where performances happen, it’s all of those other things behind the scenes that are almost non-existent in Kamloops,” MacDonald said.
“Our ability to expand our programming and expand our theatre school offerings really hinges on a new space. We cannot continue to exist the way that we do in the Pavilion [Theatre]. It’s too small, it’s too outdated and there’s too much demand on the space.
“And the same thing with the Sagebrush [Theatre].”
Proponent Ron Fawcett donated land and money toward the cause.
Asked to reflect on the referendum cancellation one year ago, the founder of Kelson Group said: “What happened was COVID. None of us know how to deal with that and it’s a one-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Fawcett said, despite the pandemic, the economy in Kamloops remains “reasonable,” noting he has continued planning a major residential development — the largest in the city’s history, called City Gardens — just down the street from the proposed arts centre location, downtown at Seymour Street and Fourth Avenue.
Fawcett remains optimistic and committed to donating the land and funds toward the project.
Like Christian, he said minor adjustments could be made to the project, such as more rehearsal halls for smaller groups.
While he remains a willing participant, the decision is ultimately up to the city and Fawcett said it is difficult for politicians right now, without sufficient information during the pandemic.
“Without the passage of time, it’s going to be difficult to get that,” he said.
Christian said that if borrowing for the project was added to the ballot in 2022 and was approved, Kamloops Centre for the Arts could be built in the next council term, from 2022 to 2026.
Asked if tweaks and the passage of time could lead to the centre costing more, Christian said that remains unknown. He knows there will be opposition to the project.
“There will always be people that don’t see value in the arts,” he said.
“There will always be people that tell you the timing is wrong and it’s the wrong size and location in the wrong time frame, but you know, you just have to kind of go with what the industry and the experts and the community is telling you.
“Our community, every time we survey it, they talk about livability and one of the pieces, one of the elements of livability that’s missing in Kamloops, is that support for the arts — and I want that discussion to restart.”