The people behind the proposed glitzy new Downtown Edmonton theatre complex/University campus/outdoor roofed-over thingy have started asking for input from the arts community and the public, apparently wanting to tweak the plans to increase the less than 50% of Edmontonians on board with the thing.
I love Edmonton and I love the Arts in Edmonton. I love Downtown. I confess, however, that I thought it was a little laughably artificial when the “Arts District” signs went up around Churchill Square a number of years ago when the area’s Arts items amounted to the Citadel Theatre, the Edmonton Art Gallery, and a few pieces of public art. Meanwhile, Old Strathcona had art galleries and theatres and music venues around every corner. Art Galleries also lined the west end of Jasper Avenue and north along 124 Street to live theatre at the Roxy. And the University of Alberta Campus had galleries, concert halls, and theatres. And . . .
Then the Winspear Concert Hall opened between the Citadel and the new Art Gallery of Alberta. And 118 Avenue picked up and a cultural hub and festival centre, in large part due to the efforts the good people of the Carrot. And the Freewill Players continued doing Shakespeare down in the River Valley rain or shine. And Expressionz Cafe opened on 99th Street and now is in danger of closing due to zoning issues. And St. Albert’s Arden Theatre and that city’s Art Gallery, and the Spruce Grove Art Gallery, and the Stony Plain Gallery up on the hill, and Sherwood Park’s Festival Place and Gallery@501. And . . . .
So, the “Arts District” has a theatre, a concert hall and an art gallery. There are a number of neighbourhoods in the city with more claim to the title “Arts District” than Downtown, even after the Galleria gets built. Old Strathcona, home of the Fringe Festival, is the most obvious choice, but personally I don’t think such a choice should be made. Greater Edmonton is Edmonton’s Arts District and that should be the guiding principal of support for the Arts.
And so, how would I tweak the Galleria project to make it work better for Edmonton and Edmonton’s Arts Community?
I wouldn’t build it. I’d build a black box theatre space in Beverly. I’d build a Terwilligar Community Art Space. I’d build a concert hall with a sprung stage for ballet in Mill Woods. I’d build a Jazz club in Belgravia, a Blues joint in Allendale, another art gallery up in Belvedere. . . And more theatre spaces and galleries in more neighbourhoods.
Imagine if there were no Community Rec Centres in Edmonton, only a huge Rec Complex Downtown. Imagine if there were no branch libraries, only a bloated Milner Library on Churchill Square. Does that make sense? Of course not.
I’m not really interested about the funding formulas and Trusts and whatevers about the Galleria. I simply think putting all or even a large number of a city’s artistic eggs in one basket is a mistake.
And, to be honest, the whole Galleria project strikes me as an effort by a few civically insecure individuals to make Edmonton “World Class” and that’s just offensive. A shivering desire to make Edmonton “World Class” is just an annoying way of saying “I don’t like Edmonton, I like Paris or London or Toronto or Portland or Timmins better!”
I like Paris and London and Toronto. I’ve never been to Portland but it sounds nice. I don’t remember Timmins, but I bet it’s got a whole lot of cool to it. I really like Mexico City, too.
But I feel quite happy to say that I like Edmonton a whole lot and I’ve never seen any place I’d rather live. The opportunities for artists are phenomenal, the Arts Community is electric and hugely supportive of each other. I don’t think there’s a better place to be. We don’t need to build something to impress the World. We just need to keep doing the great things we do in the great ways we do them.
If the Galleria ever gets built, I expect it’ll be pretty nice and it’ll be pretty great. But it won’t be great because it’s World Class. It’ll be great because the creative hearts of Edmonton will be on those stages and in those seats.
But the stages would better serve the City and it’s creative hearts out in the neighbourhoods rather than stuffed into the absurdly artificial “Arts District.”
Mack D. Male has a tremendous article on the Galleria called “Want to solve the space problem for the arts in Edmonton? Stop shaving that yak!” Definitely worth a read!