For more than 70 years, the Massey Theatre has been at the heart of New Westminster’s arts and cultural community.
Now it’s helping to steer that community into a new future – with an expanded space, a new name and a vision to match.
The Massey has announced the opening of a new, 35,000-square-foot creative arts space in its complex at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Eighth Street. With the opening of the new New Westminster Secondary School and the pending demolition of the old building, the 1949 theatre and surrounding spaces will remain as a stand-alone arts centre – taking on the transitional moniker Eighth & Eight.
The 1,260-seat Massey Theatre will remain at the heart of the complex, along with the Plaskett Gallery. Eighth & Eight will also encompass the spaces that surround them: the former high school band rooms and drama room, upstairs classrooms and the small gym next to the theatre. Moving the current theatre offices down to the former drama room on the lower level will allow the theatre to create an upstairs lobby for audiences and open up some meeting room space on the upper level as well.
Jessica Schneider, executive director of the Massey Theatre, pointed out that taking over the whole space will allow the theatre to open its doors to “building-wide activations.” Artists will be able to use the space at all stages of their work, from creation to rehearsal to presentation and community programming.
A SPACE FOR UNDERREPRESENTED COMMUNITIES
But Eighth & Eight will be about far more than just physical space.
It’s also designed to expand opportunities for artists, notably in the digital arts, providing professional artists with both the technological equipment and the “human infrastructure” to allow them to pivot to the digital realm.
At the same time, the Eighth & Eight team is continuing to work on a vision that’s long been part of Massey’s mission: to offer a space for underserved and underrepresented communities.
“What we really recognize is the larger institutions, the artistic producing institutions that have an established artistic identity and subscription basis and established audiences that they were serving, they are able to generate excellence within that realm,” Schneider said.
“But independent artists and underrepresented communities of professional artists that aren’t tapped into those infrastructures were really out on their own. …
“They’re not the first ones being called for opportunities, so they’re making their own opportunities. What they lack is the infrastructure to make that equitable.”
That’s where Eighth & Eight comes in.
The centre will continue to have its current operational team, but it will now also be helmed by an artistic team that includes Ronnie Dean Harris (a.k.a. Ostwelve) as Indigenous cultural director, with a programming director to come.
It will have a number of specific focus areas: Indigenous cultural development; the We Are Multitudes program for diverse African heritages; Prismatica for the LGBTQ2iA+ spectrum; Global Cultural Intersections programming; senior and youth programs; and low-income family programs.
INVITING THE COMMUNITY IN
Schneider noted the team will work with community partners, such as New Westminster Family Place, with an eye on increasing opportunities for low-income and other underserved families.
“We have lots of spaces and lots of hours in every day and lots of seasons to make all these different services possible,” she said.
The centre will also continue to offer opportunities for New Westminster students, especially at the high school and middle school level.
“We want to make sure the resources are available to artists, but then we also want to make sure the community can develop its expressive identity – but in connection with artists, as opposed to lessons,” Schneider said. “There will be lots of community projects and lots of learning, but it’s not straight-up a dance class or a music lesson.”
Schneider said Eighth & Eight won’t try to duplicate the lessons and training already offered by private academies in the city.
“We recognize that’s not always accessible or culturally connected to the different communities in our whole community, so we want to be able to make more range,” she said.
THE FUTURE IS TAKING SHAPE
Yes, it’s a huge undertaking. But Schneider said the Massey team has been developing plans for the space over the past few years, building on the city’s decision to take ownership of the Massey complex and knowing that the new NWSS was in the works.
They’ve already raised funds for most of the artistic equipment – things like lighting, audiovisual and projection equipment – needed for the new spaces, and Schneider noted the city will be pitching in for some of the major infrastructure work that lies ahead.
Now, the team has a host of tasks ahead of it – redoing floors, painting and rethinking what different rooms will become “after 73 years of being Band Room A and Band Room B,” Schneider said with a laugh.
Fundraising campaigns will be coming, and audiences attending Massey Theatre productions this fall will already start to see the changes in the works at Eighth & Eight.
“It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be different,” Schneider said. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything quite like it.”