MELANIE MINTY: A big, shiny new theatre isn’t needed in Surrey, but smaller spaces sure are

The phrase 'Build it and they will come' clearly does not apply to theatre space

The interior of Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey

SURREY — The City of Surrey has an ambitious Cultural Plan. You may have heard about the proposed “cultural corridor” running along King George Boulevard, with pop-up galleries, and the city revamping disused spaces and converting them into spaces for the arts. There are also cultural grants to assist the growth of Arts and Heritage projects. The city has branded this “AH.” So all well and good, but there is only so much you can absorb from reports. Sometimes you just have to meet face to face, people to people.

Last Wednesday (Oct. 5), city officials held a Cultural Grant workshop and info meeting for interested applicants who would like a share of the proposed $300,000 in cultural grants. This is a significant increase in funds which the cultural services people really want to get out and working in the community. Sheila McKinnon, Manager of Arts Services, impresses me more every time we meet. She wants to help you and your ideas to become a part of Surrey’s Cultural Landscape. There are real people at Surrey Arts Centre, and very approachable.

While the meeting corralled about 80 interested people, these were the people who have already notified the city with an expression of interest in receiving a grant. Since Surrey’s Cultural Plan is titled “Enhancing Urbanization through Arts and Heritage,” there was quite a diverse group present. For some organizations like Surrey Little Theatre and FVGSS, a musical theatre company, applying for grants is an annual project, and they mostly have a grip on how to make a successful grant application. But there are many other unique and individual hopefuls who really don’t know where to start.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Surrey’s Cultural Grants program.

McKinnon encouraged all groups to become not-for-profit societies. That takes some effort, but it’s worth it in the long run. “Really focus on the quality of your application,” was her further advice. It takes more than just a good idea – you need to have a proposed budget, defined goals and how you fit in with the cultural plan. Again, here the city will assist you in how to become a NFP registered society. Planning is everything, and if you did get a grant, be sure to do an excellent follow up report. This is as important as filing your income taxes on time. Deadlines are there for a reason. Do your due diligence. I know, it is easy said, but not so easily done. Just remember, there are good people in the city’s arts services department who want to help. If you want more information about the cultural grants program, email culturalgrants@surrey.ca. You will be heard, and answered.

The grants funding for 2017 might be about 300 per cent greater than the original grant allocation in 2013. Remember, this is just the grant funds, and the city does allocate more funds than just the grant program. The entire Arts and Heritage program for the city includes the Phase II expansion of Surrey Museum and other capital projects. Somewhere in there is the construction of a bright, shiny new 1,600-seat theatre. If anyone in the planning sector is listening to me (and it seems they do), this city does not need another large theatre that is too expensive for community groups to rent. Look at the underused and overbuilt Bell Performing Arts Centre. The phrase “Build it and they will come” clearly does not apply to theatre space. What I am hearing from community groups is that smaller-capacity venues are more useful, and needed. This time, please listen. A big performing arts centre may be politically attractive but it is not practical now. Community performing-arts groups need smaller, affordable venues. Now.

Here is another avenue to pursue on the internet: Go to Surrey.ca/culture-recreation to hook into the excellent city website. I found a nifty tool called Surrey Speaks. Sign up for this survey. You can enter your opinions and let the city planners know what facilities you use and what your evaluation is of the service you received. We folk in the arts are not a very cohesive team, like a soccer club, for example. We tend to go it alone in our own interests for our own unique group. Well, here is a tool. Use it. Speak out.

If you are a business, you are not eligible for these grants, but you can partner with an arts/heritage organization. The Capacity Building category of these grants encourages partnerships which result in cultural programs and initiatives. I can think of one project that could be organized: Creating a comprehensive listing of arts and heritage organizations looking for business partnerships. This question is not mine, it came up at the informational meeting. Is there any listing? Answer is, no – not yet, anyhow. Good idea, and creating a comprehensive listing would be a fine project worthy of a city cultural grant.

Now all that is left is to decide what is art, what is culture and what is heritage. Go to the website listed above, look around. It is computer time well spent. It’s good for the city’s economy, all this funding. As McKinnon pointed out, every dollar given out in cultural grants sees a return of $8 to our local economy. This is a worthwhile investment, for sure.

melminty@telus.net

 

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