The Lighthouse Academy of Dance performs at the Four Seasons Musical Theatre Christmas Concert in December at the Isabelle Reader Theatre in Langford. The middle school site has been the go-to venue for community groups for some time.

Spotlight on the Arts: Taking venues to the next level

Part 1 in a two-part special series on creating a dedicated arts and cultural facility for the West Shore

After a decade of uncertainty, West Shore residents are wondering: will a local performing arts centre ever see the light of day?

Is there enough demand in the community for such a facility? And if it were to be built, would it be in Langford, Colwood or elsewhere on the West Shore? Who would pay how much and what would the total price tag be?

Uncertainty abounds, but Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said questions are slowly being answered. The time for a new arts facility centred in Greater Victoria’s fastest-growing region may come sooner than later, she said.

“I think it will happen … and I think it is good for the overall healthy community to have the diversity of entertainment,” she said. “Not everyone engages on sports fields, or hiking trails, or paddling in a canoe. If we can roll up our sleeves and make something happen, it could happen.”

Her opinion is partly based on a 148-page feasibility study completed by Schick Shiner, a consulting firm specializing in art centres, galleries and cultural centres. The report, funded by Colwood and completed in March 2013, builds a case for the facility to be built on a one-acre parcel of land.

Proposed amenities would include a 650-seat theatre, a 200-seat “black-box” theatre, a restaurant, studio space, art gallery, rehearsal space and more, for an estimated price of $35 million.

A citizen steering committee, led by Catharine Chase, was formed in 2014 to further research and review possible locations in Colwood. After eight months, the committee is ready to present its findings. Despite the multi-million dollar price tag, Chase also said the facility can be a reality.

“Some people say it’s so much money, but there is money available. It’s just a matter of accessing it,” she said. “There has been a need that was formally recognized in this community for a performing arts centre (as far back as) 2003, so that need has been growing.”

The report’s cost estimate does not include the cost of land or an estimated annual operating budget of $750,000. On the flip side, $16 million worth of construction jobs would be created and annual economic spin-offs to the tune of $3.2 million could be enjoyed by the community. Of the 18 facilities examined in the report, only one, the Isabelle Reader Theatre at Spencer middle school in Langford, is in the West Shore.

The vast majority of arts and performance facilities currently in Greater Victoria are in the city of Victoria, with other facilities sprinkled around the downtown core, such as the University of Victoria and Spectrum Community School theatre.

“The need is there; the many talents and many talented people in this community and beyond really deserve a facility like this,” Chase said, adding it would also be an economic driver for the West Shore. “This will be a benefit for the economy and the arts, and benefit the community in sharing each others’ cultural heritage and seeing growth there.”

Chase points to a new performing arts centre in St. Catherine’s, Ont. as a good example of what could be created here. While the 95,000-square-foot facility is much bigger and cost almost twice as much as the West Shore proposal, the financing model is one she hopes can be replicated locally.

The model uses a shared concept, with the provincial and federal governments kicking in a third of the cost to match funds raised by the community or contributed by municipal government(s) involved.

“To me this would be just an incredible part of our community. We want this to be known as a centre of excellence where we celebrate excellence and celebrate culture,” Chase said. “That, to me, is so important.”

Two new theatres underway will provide short-term relief to the lack of venues. Royal Bay secondary in Colwood and the new Belmont secondary in Langford are building 350- and 300-seat theatres, respectively, to join the Reader Theatre as school and community use facilities starting in September.

Despite this, Oksana Dexter, a former cultural services manager in West Vancouver and the Centennial Theatre manager in North Vancouver said the dancers, actors, singers and performers have no place in the West Shore to graduate to.

“People say if you build it, they will come –  for audiences, yes that is true,” she said. “But for arts organizations, if you don’t have a (larger) place to perform, you can’t grow, flourish and expand creative potential. When you build a (dedicated) home for the arts community, there is a whole plethora of things that can occur … There isn’t a community in the world where the first thing they want to do to celebrate is a Christmas concert, a musical or a dance and those things need a home.”

Coming up in part 2 of the series: Finding a home for a new West Shore arts facility.

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