The 750 seat Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre
The Shuswap supports a vibrant cultural scene and yet one “big idea” that has yet to become reality is a centre for the arts that provides much needed venues for large and small events, including theatre, music and dance. Given a city sponsored project has begun to develop a cultural master plan, it would be good to have a look at the facilities that other communities of similar size have to support the arts. Now that a giant treble clef identifies Salmon Arm as a music-focused city, the next step is to build a cultural centre where great music can be heard throughout the year.
Very close in size to Salmon Arm, is Cranbrook in the East Kootenays, which has the 602-seat Key City Theatre that includes an art gallery. Art-lovers began working on the project in the mid-1970s and a decade later, thanks to a partnership between the school district and the city with support from the provincial government and local citizens that theatre was built totally debt-free. It hosts about 100 events a year, including concerts, dance recitals, community events and conferences.
The cultural scene also flourishes far to the north in Fort St. John, where the North Peace Cultural Centre, built in 1992, includes the city library, meeting rooms, a cafe and an art gallery. In the very heart of this resource-based city, the Centre hosts a 412-seat theatre and provides a home for the local theatre society, a dance school, a choir, educational programs and school productions. Its unique lobby and concourse stretches for an entire city block.
Cowichan Performing Arts Centre
Much smaller communities than Salmon Arm also have impressive facilities. In Duncan that has a similar brand, “Small town, Big experience,” where the population is just under 5,000, there is the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. It includes a 731-seat proscenium arch theatre used by local groups, touring musicians and as a conference and convention facility. The centre is run by the regional district as part of it arts and culture division.
Just to the east is Revelstoke, where the school district in cooperation with the Arts Council built a 275-seat performing arts centre in 2012. The venue hosts a diverse line-up of music, film, theatre and dance for all ages. The current line-up includes ballet, a brass band, an Arts Club Theatre Company production and the much-loved singer-songwriter and storyteller, Irish Mythen.
Frank Venables Theatre
Despite its small population of just over 4,000 people, the town of Oliver hosts the 400-seat Frank Venables Theatre, built in 2014 by the school district where a popular art-deco style auditorium burnt down in 2010. The non-profit Oliver Community Theatre Society with support from the regional district operates the venue, which hosts touring artists, as well as community events. Upcoming shows include a classic piano duo, an Eagles tribute band, and an amateur theatre company production.
Drawing of proposed Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre by a local artist, Jim Dodd
While Colwood and Langford do not yet have a facility, they are closer to building one than Salmon Arm as the Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre Society that was formed in 2016 has developed a comprehensive plan to build a 650-seat theatre along with a 240-seat black box theatre, plus a dance studio, retail and office space, a restaurant and coffee shop, and a gallery. Their prospectus could serve useful for developing the Salmon Arm cultural plan.
One of the chapters in volume two of Everything Shuswap will be about arts and culture, which is certainly plentiful in the Shuswap. Hopefully, the chapter will include some good news about plans for a performing arts venue that provides a diversity of cultural programs and that matches those found in many other British Columbia communities.
Another fabulous centre is the ACT Arts Centre in Maple Ridge. The ACT Arts Centre is managed by the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Arts Council through an operation agreement with the City of Maple Ridge, which owns the facility. The centre includes a 460-seat mainstage theatre, a 150-seat studio theatre and a spacious lobby with a bar.
Powell River, with a population of just over 13,000, has the 400-seat Max Cameron Theatre, which was built by the school district as an extension to the high school. ‘The Max’ is a flexible performance facility that is used by both school and community groups. It has quickly become one of the busiest venues in the community, housing major events for the Powell River Academy of Music, West Coast Jazz and Blues Society, Far Off Broadway Theatre Company, and Powell River Film Society.
Great performers on tours, like Michael Kaeshammer, usually skip Salmon Arm because we lack a good performance venue. At least there is The Nexus in the First United Church where the Jazz Club and the Symphony have shows, however seating is limited, there are no dressing rooms, the stage is not adequate for theatre productions and the pew benches are uncomfortable.
Over the years, I have helped organize many shows in Salmon Arm. The crowds do come out when there is a very popular performer or group. A good example was when we brought Joel Plaskett’s band here to play at the Salmar Classic as that show sold out a few days prior to the performance. The same is true for Shuswap Theatre, which sells out plays that are also popular. People come out for shows not only from Salmon Arm, but also from the North and South Shuswap, Sicamous, Enderby and surrounding rural areas.
The next column will provide some ideas on what a new venue for the Shuswap could include, as well as information about the work that a group of local citizens, many from Shuswap theatre, have been doing to promote the creation of a centre.