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The Arts and Culture Centre: use it or lose it


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Grand Falls-Windsor residents, take notice. Terry French, the provincial Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, recently mentioned the Town when he was talking with the host on CBC Radio’s weekend program on the arts.

It wasn’t a positive comment.

It was related to the province’s Arts and Culture Centres.

Some of the centres are doing “very, very well,” the minister said, where packed houses are frequent, and communities are engaged when it comes to their arts and culture centres. But then he said to the host that some of the province’s arts and culture centres have very poor attendance. She asked, “where would some of those centres be?”

Off the bat, French said, “Take Grand Falls, for example. The attendance record there is very low. Our programming, because of that, is not where it should be either.”

Any time a public figure appears at something like a music festival, or in an interview, and claims Grand Falls-Windsor is a town known for its support of the arts, they are sadly mistaken.

In the early days of the former Town of Grand Falls, there was a lively arts scene – some shows at schools, churches and other facilities featured touring musicians of all sorts, from classical and folk to contemporary singers and players. Other shows had local talent, again. Sometimes they featured the talent in question, big people and small, in community concerts. Don’t forget the school shows, either. And the plays – even before the founding of the local drama group, the Northcliffe Drama Club (there is a more recent addition, Fresh Start, a children and youth acting troupe), residents always packed the venues.

Whatever happened to the audience at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts? The biggest turnout for performances and other programs today is when shows feature children and youth whose parents and family members will attend.

Otherwise, the audience engagement at the Grand Falls-Windsor facility is a sad state of affairs. The numbers are dropping. The last provincial drama festival held here, for example, never had a full house at the centre. That wasn’t the case when Grand Falls-Windsor hosted it during the 2005 centennial year.

There is no shortage of great programs. For example, a couple of years ago, the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s small group, the NSO Sinfonia, brought Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” to town. It featured a fabulous performance with a great star violinist. Fewer than 50 attended, however, in a theatre with a capacity of more than 400.

Children’s shows usually result in a good turnout. But the centre also shows movies, and good ones, thanks to a partnership with one of the most influential film celebrations around, the Toronto International Film Festival. They always have good, critically acclaimed movies. How many people go there regularly? There were about eight.

Why is it like trying to pull teeth to get people out these days? Some will use excuses. “Can’t afford the ticket.” Those who do go because of a love of music and theatre are not always economically well-off. But they like going. “Don’t like this classical/folk/jazz stuff.” Do you have children studying music? You should bring them, and get them exposed to such diversity.

If you think it’s OK enough to restrict your centre-going to your children’s concerts and festival performances, here’s the conclusion: it’s not OK. You should truly support your arts community and support the arts and culture centre.

What you don’t use, you lose – and your kids won’t have a place for their debut.

Sue Hickey

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