It was during January’s Mayor’s Gala for the Arts that Mayor Ken Christian addressed the packed house at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre as he spoke of the importance of the arts in this city known for sports tournaments.
The gala was held just 11 days after Kelson Group owner and noted philanthropist Ron Fawcett appeared before council with an impressive PAC 2.0 proposal, an idea still being worked on to see a state-of-the-art performing-arts centre rise on what is now a parking lot downtown at Seymour Street and Fourth Avenue.
The Fawcetts — Ron and wife Rae — are serious about the proposal, so serious they spent millions buying an adjacent property that would be used as part of the peforming-arts centre. In 2015, the couple pledged $5 million of their own money, to be used toward the $91-million PAC proposal that was ultimately defeated by voters in that year’s referendum.
Proponents like the idea.
They envision the arts centre becoming a catalyst for a significant revitalization of the downtown core, a cultural hub whose spokes will improve much of the area in every direction There are economic studies that support that view, locally and in other cities, showing the surprisingly deep financial impact the arts have across a broad spectrum of society.
Opponents of the 2015 referendum will still oppose any bid to make the PAC rise today. Their opposition is the extra money they will have to pay in taxes to help fund the art centre’s construction and annual operations. They argued — and will again — that not a penny should be spent on something as frivolous as an arts centre until the last pothole in Kamloops is filled.
For some, apparently, a smooth ride home does more for the soul than a stirring performance of The Sound of Music.
The debate over the proposed performing-arts centre has become so much more crucial in the past few weeks, since we learned in mid-February that the theatre in Kamloops — venerable Sagebrush, attached to South Kamloops secondary in South Kamloops — will be closed until the fall (or longer) due to a cracked roof truss.
The sudden closure meant organizers of myriad events — Western Canada Theatre plays, Kamloops Symphony Orchestra performances, touring acts like Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, school ceremonies and those really long end-of-year dance recitals — had to scramble to find alternate venues.
I am sure some are still scouring the city as the options — the Coast, Pavilion Theatre, church auditoriums, community halls and school theatres and gyms — are a far cry from what Sagebrush offers actors, musicians and dancers alike.
And that is a salient point — while Sagebrush is heads and shoulders above all other venues in Kamloops, Sagebrush itself is overbooked, under-sized and over-sized for some events and a bit outdated.
That a theatre in desperate need of a new big brother exposes such a lack of arts infrastructure in the city when it suddenly closes should be argument enough for the need for a PAC as proposed by the Fawcetts.
But, really, as Christian noted in his State of the City address last week to a decidedly business crowd (the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce), the same energy that went into creating the Tournament Capital brand can be injected into the arts and culture centre.
It is, Christian said, a debate that transcends a performing-arts centre building; the facility, when built, will be the foundation of a renaissance of the arts in Kamloops, one that is long overdue.
We can build it now or wait until the final roof truss is cracked and beyond repair — but we will have to build it regardless.