Culture groups seek support

Central Alberta arts and cultural leaders converged on Alberta’s culture and community spirit minister Wednesday to present their multi-million-dollar wish list of building projects.

Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit Lidnsay Blackett

Central Alberta arts and cultural leaders converged on Alberta’s culture and community spirit minister Wednesday to present their multi-million-dollar wish list of building projects.

Lindsay Blackett, who is on a six-community tour to gather input for developing an overall Cultural Facilities Plan, met with groups for three hours at Bethany Collegeside building in Red Deer.

The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, which regularly sells out the Red Deer College Arts Centre, was among the groups concerned about the availability of space.

Orchestra board member Neil Evans said the board is actively pursuing a new performing arts centre for the Red Deer region to enjoy.

“We’d like a multi-level performance venue to encompass drama, music, corporate functions and graduations,” Evans said. “I made it very clear with the minister to show where we are going with this. It’s a runaway train and it’s not going to stop. We’re going to make this a go.”

Paul Harris, consultant for Red Deer Culture Vision, a document to guide cultural development in the city over the next 10 years, said the groups wanted to press Blackett to support them in what they are trying to do as communities in culture.

“A large part of that would be funding, but the message was support us. We know best what to do in our community,” said Harris.

David Chapman, vice-president of Treehouse Youth Centre, said having access to theatre is important, whether it’s in new or existing spaces.

“Smaller organizations that don’t have a facility. . . it’s very difficult for them to get into a space,” Chapman said.

Having venue space is important because the organization can then attract volunteers and staff.

Chapman said they are losing young talent to Toronto and other bigger cities because if there’s nothing for them to be involved in here, they leave.

As at the Edmonton meeting, people didn’t seem to be worried that arts and culture would become the province’s lowest priority during these challenging economic times, Blackett said.

“I’m always building a case for my colleagues, explaining why we should spend more money on arts and culture,” he said.

The Cultural Facilities Plan will see Blackett gathering a list of existing facilities and future projects.

“When I started a year ago, we didn’t have a list . . . of cultural facilities,” Blackett said. “I couldn’t tell you how many theatres there were in Red Deer or the province or anything.”

Besides Edmonton and Red Deer, Blackett will seek input in Grande Prairie, Calgary, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge over the next several weeks.

Each of these six regions are asked to come up with a list of capital projects that are priorities.

Blackett can then try to sell each plan to his cabinet colleagues. As he points out, so many groups are asking for money and there are only so many dollars to go around.

“It can’t just involve my department, it has to be a collaboration,” Blackett said.

The provincial facilities plan will also tie in with the Alberta’s cultural policy, The Spirit of Alberta.

Blackett said that policy, finished in January 2008, speaks of creating access for all Albertans and for communities to have the resources for supporting culture.

“We’re one of only a few provinces that have one, and the federal cultural policy isn’t as extensive,” he said.

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