On Another Stream (published op-ed) 1A

Thought I should share some interesting and up-beat moments in my world. The local newspaper — the Penticton Herald — has decided to run a three-part Op Ed piece that I have written about an idea regarding a proposed Performing Arts Centre for the city of Penticton…  Here is the column that appears in last Thursday’s paper (November 1st).

Another way to look at a Performing Arts Centre

We need a decent home for the Performing Arts just like we needed a decent home for the Penticton Vees. Penticton is as much an arts community as a sports one. Done right, the former can generate as much action and revenue as the latter for the economy and environment.

Here’s the rub, the SOEC is also home to many other events and activities. That’s what makes it work – from rock concerts to curling championships. Let’s use the same multi-dimensional thinking for the performing arts?

Modern theatres have become technological marvels. Things are being done with lighting, sound & mechanicals that transform them even more amazingly than hockey arenas can turn into basketball courts and rock concert venues. This broadens the potential partners for such a new venue including the downtown mainline churches!

Why? Churches are finding it harder to financially survive. Congregations are shrinking: some still have Sunday Schools, others wonderful music, a few have architectural gems beautifying the city landscape. But as almost any city in Europe illustrates, great architecture won’t save churches as congregations. Many decry tearing down church buildings due to some faint memory of being married or baptized in them. Others wonder where their funerals will be if there are no churches. Legitimate questions, but why should a building be maintained only to provide a person with a place for three moments in life: christening, marriage, burial?

Why not build into this new facility a multi-use auditorium with extra storage rooms, and tracks along the sides where special movable walls could be wheeled in and out. On Sunday mornings, several congregations could share the same facility, but at different times. Each could bring out their individual walls, containing their particular stained-glass windows or wall-hangings, to create an atmosphere fit for their particular worship. And on and on…

The mainline churches could retain their own identities but merge their collective real estate assets and invest in the new Centre. The concept would retain one church building for all/each to use when there is a need for a traditional church structure: weddings, funerals, baptisms, and the like. Some special movable furnishings could be utilized at any moment a particular denominational flair is required.

The remaining properties would be turned into residential real-estate, thus adding a diversity of accommodation in the downtown core – there could be a mix of social housing, rental units, mid-income (for younger couples/families) and high-end condos. With innovative architects working on the projects, the resulting buildings could add significantly to the beauty of our core community. Some buildings could even be named after the churches originally on the sites.

A great deal more could be said about this concept. Now it’s important to start the conversation. Imagine if all these churches, the current SOPAC committee, all people involved with youth programming, keen businesses in the downtown area, were to come together along with the arts community to see how much money might be readily available on a pooled basis. This would help lever funds from senior governments as well as inspiring serious donors to participate in a year-round facility, with something happening every day each week. How many performing arts theatres can claim that from the get-go? Even the Stratford Shakespearean Festival and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival didn’t have that breadth of participation at the start and look at their economic and social/cultural impact on their communities now.