New Westminster maps out theatre vision with new strategy

New Westminster has adopted a new strategy that maps out the city’s plans for its theatres.

On Dec. 9, council approved a theatre strategy that aims to show how the city’s theatre infrastructure can support the growth and development of the local arts community and the creative economy.

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“I am really happy with where the theatre strategy has ended up,” said Coun. Mary Trentadue. “I think we now have somewhat of a blueprint or direction in a way to move forward.”

The strategy had three main goals:

·        To cultivate an environment of possibilities and growth for artists and audiences at civic theatres, igniting passion for the performing arts.

·        To establish a mandate for each of the civic theatres to present and promote the best of the performing arts in dance, music, musical theatre and plays for the residents.

·        To establish governance frameworks that strengthen theatre operations for financial accountability and long-term sustainability.

Consultant Oksana Dexter said the strategy sought to provide council with an understanding of the performing arts in New Westminster and recommendations on how the city could support its needs and aspirations and how council could provide leadership and support that sector in this community. She said it was also intended to provide guidance on how the city’s theatre assets could be and should be governed, with the goal of providing the city with the roadmap needed to help the theatres continue to be successful.

Todd Ayotte, the city’s new manager of community arts and theatre, will oversee implementation of the strategy.

“I think New West has a long history of theatre. This is going to help us build upon it,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “The unique state that New Westminster is in right now is that in the span of a decade we are going to essentially add two major theatres to civic assets.”

In addition to opening Anvil Theatre five years ago, Cote said the city is also poised to take over ownership of the Massey Theatre, which is the largest theatre in the city.

“Having this strategy in place at this time is so critically important to really help us guide the important work we do so we can make sure we are getting the greatest community benefit out of these assets,” he said. “No doubt, there is going to be challenges in having significant theatre assets in our community, but there is also going to be some tremendous benefits and opportunities. I think of the benefits from an arts and cultural perspective, but I also see the benefits from an economic perspective, too. For a city our size to have three very unique and different-sized theatre assets is an incredible opportunity.”

Dexter said Massey Theatre has tremendous potential to be the magnet to draw performers and audiences to New Westminster. A renovation design and timeline is deemed to be a priority.

The strategy recommended that Anvil Theatre should focus on presenting “audience-ready” events (as opposed to being a rehearsal hall.) It recommended the Bernie Legge Theatre should celebrate the Vagabond Players and its commitment to producing theatre at affordable prices, but it should also be a place that provides greater access to other community members.

“The Bernie Legge needs some help, so a capital plan for that facility would be really useful,” Dexter said.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said the city is blessed because it’s also home to the Columbia Theatre and the theatre at Douglas College.

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