Expanding on the arts

Dalhousie Arts Centre renovation project takes advantage of financial boost

Jacqueline Warwick feels the expansion of the Dalhousie Arts Centre will put the university “in line with other music schools.” 

Warwick is the director of the Fountain School of Performing Arts, which formed in 2014 when Dalhousie University’s music and theatre departments merged. Construction has now begun to improve the 50-year-old Arts Centre, which will eventually be equipped with a new three-storey wing. This will allow for features such as new rehearsal spaces and a concert hall. 

Warwick points out that the students have “never had their own concert hall” so they rely on the Sir James Dunn Theatre and other community theatres as a result. “They take the orchestra and jazz band around and they are happy to be part of the community, but it would be nice to have their own concert hall,” she said. 

In addition, the expansion will allow students in the costume studies program – which is currently housed a hop, skip and a jump away from campus at the corner of Oxford and Coburg – to join their performing arts classmates in the centre itself. 

 Provincial dough 

On Sept. 19, Premier Stephen McNeil visited Dal’s campus to participate in an announcement: Nova Scotia’s provincial government will contribute $10 million to the Arts Centre renovations. That’s more than a quarter of the cash required for the (estimated) $38.5-million project. 

Dal president Richard Florizone had previously reached out and met with McNeil to discuss the possibility of the provincial government’s participation in the expansion. 

During a phone interview with the Gazette, McNeil explained that when the province looks at investing money in a project, the question is “how do we best use public money to trigger private investment?”  

In this case, McNeil feels $10 million is the right amount to give Dalhousie the boost they needed to secure the rest of the money elsewhere.  

According to Warwick, Dal has received other sizeable donations for the Arts Centre, including $2 million from Rob Steele. 

“This is a way for us to continue to retain and attract young people. It lends a bit of vibrancy to our city when people are coming in, who want to look for diversified options for entertainment and enjoyment,” said McNeil. It’s been a collaboration with Dal “to make sure that we have the appropriate physical infrastructure for teaching and learning,” while at the same time using that infrastructure for the community in general. 

 Students react 

Despite the hype, Dalhousie theatre student Dylan Jackson is less-than-thrilled. 

“I am not entirely sure how necessary it is,” said Jackson. “I know that it is a little inconvenient at some times, when you’re in the class and you hear the loud machinery going. Overall, I don’t have any huge feelings on it.” 

Other students approached by the Gazette are looking forward to the improvements. Jacob Hemphill, for one, expressed excitement and echoed Warwick’s point about the need for a concert hall. 

“I think it is great to have an extra area for musicians to just sort of have that stage,” said Hemphill. “Rebecca Cohn is very great and the Dunn is great, but hopefully with this, students can have their own particular space that is just for the opera singers or just for the music program.” 

Acting major Regan Bennett felt the same.  

“It will really bring more people to the Arts Centre because we already have the Rebecca Cohn and we have the Dunn, which puts on fantastic shows all the time. But to have an actual concert hall, for the music students and to have more performance of that kind, I think it’s great.” 

Bennett added that the government support is fantastic: “Especially with the tax credits for the film industry here in Nova Scotia – that was a blow and so it really suffered for a long time.”  

Since the Nova Scotia film tax credit was axed in 2015, some Nova Scotians (including political opponents) have criticized McNeil and the Liberals for what they see as a lack of support for the industry and the arts in general.  

The investment in the Arts Centre is “a great endeavour for future generations as well, ‘cause it’ll inspire more kids or more young adults to explore the arts,” continued Bennett. “Even if they don’t pursue it as their career, at least they’ll have a hobby in a way as well, or have an appreciation for it.” 

Asked if he hoped the funding announcement would change minds about the Liberals’ support for the arts, McNeil didn’t speculate. He only said the choice to help fund the centre was unrelated to that.  

“This project had nothing to do with how people perceive our government,” said McNeil. “It simply was the right thing to do for Dalhousie and for the broader community.” 

Students can find updates on the project in the Facilities Management section of Dal’s website.

With files from Shayla Smith

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