The Shuswap supports a vibrant cultural scene and yet one “big idea” that has yet to become reality is a centre for the arts.
An arts centre would provide 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.
Much smaller communities than Salmon Arm also have impressive facilities. In Duncan, which has a similar brand, “Small town, Big experience,” and 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 co-operation 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.
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.
While Colwood and Langford do not yet have a facility, they are closer to building one than Salmon Arm. The Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre Society, formed in 2016, has developed a comprehensive plan to build a 650-seat theatre along with a 24-seat black box theatre, plus a dance studio, retail and office space, a restaurant,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.