The Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society is aiming to fill one of the two huge voids in downtown Chemainus.
The former Chemainus Fire Hall space will soon be developed into the new Chemainus library, with North Cowichan’s mixed-use affordable housing building next door.
That leaves the previous Chemainus Foods location as a large empty opportunity in the heart of town and the CVCAS would like to turn it into a regional arts centre. Those plans were unveiled to a large crowd representing numerous community groups at the Chemainus Legion Hall last Tuesday night.
“It was a good turnout and the feedback from our comment cards was very positive,” said outgoing CVCAS president Peggy Grigor, who was succeeded after her two-year term by Bev Knight. “We had almost all the community groups represented.”
The arts community has evolved over time with the inauguration of the Festival of Murals Society in 1982, the Chemainus Theatre Festival in 1993, the formation of the CVCAS in 2001, the Rainforest Arts Gallery, the Polka Dot Studio Tour, the Sketch Group and more.
“It really underscores it’s a work in progress and this is the next step,” said Grigor.
The importance of the regional aspect of the facility also can’t be understated.
“We need to include the entire CVRD in this project,” Grigor noted.
Joel Delaquis ran the meeting’s presentation, with assistance from Brad Grigor in outlining plans both verbally and through a slide show, and conducting a public discussion.
Delaquis is a relative newcomer to the area, residing on Thetis Island. He was impressed by the turnout.
“Today, you see the result and the interest and the will to make things happen in our favour,” Delaquis said.
Val Bob of Penelakut Island, who performed an opening drumming ceremony, said she has a great appreciation for the Arts Society here. “We understand there’s a passion to continue the community in the way it is,” she noted.
Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor added his voice and support for the project.
“For every dollar that’s invested in arts and culture, you get multiple returns on it,” he noted.
“I myself think it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Tonight is all about forming that game plan.”
MacGregor said he will do all he can from the federal scene and congratulated volunteers for taking the discussion to this level.
The mission of the meeting was to discuss the opportunity at hand and “we want to put together a working A Team, an Arts Team,” Delaquis pointed out.
Specifically, a centre would house a facility capable of handling various traveling art exhibitions in a climate-controlled environment, with performance spaces also available, and an educational space for workshops and lectures. The plan is for the site to be utilized as much – if not more – by the local population as another attraction for tourists.
“What we are talking about here with this opportunity is to bring it up a notch,” said Delaquis.
It’s all part of the continuing evolution of the Little Town That Did into a multi-dimensional arts community – the Arts In the Heart of Chemainus, if you will.
“It also fulfills social aspects of a vibrant arts community,” pointed out Delaquis. “Some artists like to be out in public, others no.
“Chemainus faces a need in the increased value in the arts.”
A professional space would go a long way toward fostering that need and providing a potential economic boom to the town.
The Call to Action for an A Team involves assembling a small group of people to qualify and quantify the opportunity at hand, build a business plan and “then decide if this is going to move forward,” noted Delaquis.
Although the Chemainus Foods location sticks out like a sore thumb right now, planning is not tied to it and a centre could, in fact, be situated somewhere else.
A smaller venue can be extremely advantageous, according to CVCAS member Brad Grigor. “It’s an untested market potential,” he noted.
A decision would have to be made about how to proceed between private and public sector funding or a combination of both.
“The team needs to get together and do the market research, the market assessment,” said Grigor.
The Chemainus Foods site would involve either leasing or purchasing from Anthem Properties, another matter that needs to be taken into consideration.
“It was more of a solution in search of a problem,” quipped Grigor of the gaping Chemainus Foods vacancy.
“It looks like that property is just earmarked for a cultural centre. But let’s make sure we can pull together a case that makes a lot of sense.”