City urged to make concert hall a reality

News that a performing arts/concert hall ranked near the top of a community’s wish list did not surprise members of Red Deer’s arts community.

News that a performing arts/concert hall ranked near the top of a community’s wish list did not surprise members of Red Deer’s arts community.

And now they want the city to start making the facility a reality.

“It’s encouraging to think the community thinks it’s important for Red Deer to have a performing arts centre that is independent of the college,” said Chandra Kastern, the executive director of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra. “The downside is it appears to be pushed aside by council, which it makes it very difficult for groups like ours to envision where we fit in long-term planning in the city.”

In last week’s summary report of the city’s community amenity project, residents ranked a performing arts/concert hall No. 4 in the priority list, after more trails, a multi-use aquatic centre and a Bower Ponds expansion.

The list, built as a result of public consultation, ranked 148 amenities.

But a performing arts centre/concert hall appears not to be in the city’s plans until 2023 at the earliest — it is listed by city administration as a placeholder then, within the long-term plan.

But sometime early next year, city council will sit down in a workshop to discuss the results of the consultation and potentially tweak the priority list.

Coun. Paul Harris, who has been a strong advocate for the arts community, was part of a committee what worked on the city’s Cultural Master Plan in 2000 and the cultural vision update in 2008.

Harris said he plans to push the amenities discussion to an open forum, possibly at a council governance and policy meeting, so the public can hear the debate, understand the rationale and so the meeting is recorded.

He said the city spent a year asking the public what they wanted and in the order they wanted, and now it’s time to figure out how to make it happen.

“I feel very strongly that if we can’t address the Top 10 and figure out how we are going to move them along, we’re doing something wrong,” said Harris. “I don’t know how we move the concert hall along but I would suspect we have to start by defining exactly what it is that needs to be built … and the timing. Certainly it needs to be built within 10 years.”

Kastern said some movement is better than no movement and the logical first step would be to conduct a feasibility study for the concert hall. She would like to see a group such as an ad hoc committee through the city or community-based group.

The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra has been a staple in community for nearly 30 years with sell out seasons nearly every year. Kastern said they have limited access to the Red Deer College Arts Centre and there is no opportunity to expand the concert dates or seating.

She said there is no other venue in Red Deer that is acoustically appropriate and appealing to the audience.

“With no ability to grow, it’s really hard to envision where we go,” said Kastern.

Diana Anderson, Red Deer Arts Council co-ordinator, said she was thrilled to hear that Red Deerians want to improve the cultural offerings in the city.

“I am extremely thrilled that they see the need because we certainly do,” said Anderson. “Because the arts sometimes gets left out of things. To see it ranked fourth is astounding and wonderful.”

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