To the Editor:
One could, on initial inspection, get excited about the proposed Aboriginal Art Centre in Thompson. For too long, the arts have taken a back seat to sports in this community. This community also needs to embrace the aboriginal population that contributes today and will sustain this community in the future. As an artist myself, I feel an arts centre is something that Thompson needs. However, I feel that the city would be making a grave mistake building the centre as proposed.
Proposed at $15 million, the reality is that most developments like this cost more than planned. One need only look at the Museum of Human Rights and new football stadium in Winnipeg as an example of what will happen with this facility's true cost to the taxpayer. At $15 million, one must ask if there are better places for that money to go. One could strongly argue that money could be much better spent on a rehab clinic or new homeless shelter adjacent the AFM building. One could also argue that the money is not there to spend at all or that $15 million would be better spent by taxpayers supporting local business and artists. Even after the building is built the support costs will likely be entirely funded by the taxpayer in one form or another. To suggest that gallery sales and user fees will support this facility in any significant way is unrealistic.
If this group is truly committed to supporting the community it should look at alternatives, because there are many of them. Many schools and churches sit empty for the majority of the time. Why can't the art class in R.D Parker be used in conjunction with the forum as a gallery? Why can't this idea not be incorporated into UCN, which will have unused classroom space in the evenings? There are rooms in the new rec centre which are multi-functional, they could be used. Even the zoo has sparsely used space that could function for this purpose. There are also many buildings in town for sale right now that have price tags under one million dollars, leaving lots of money for renovations, programming and upkeep.
Back in 2009, the city and the Thompson Arts Council was using the Mennonite church (now the Boys and Girls Club) for programming, shows, music and community groups. Due to lack of money and interest, that organization died and the Mennonite church was sold for well under half a million. Today, St. Joseph's is for sale for $1.1 million and is in a prime downtown location adjacent to the MMF building. These present far better value than a new building. The building could be renovated using local contractors and would likely cost a fraction of the new proposed building.
Given the current fiscal challenges facing the city, we cannot justify this new building. Spend a couple of million on an existing building, renovate it and put the rest towards bringing a real cash-generating event to the city. "Biggest Pow-wow in Canada!" How many Churchill-bound visitors would get off the train for that? How many of our neighbours would visit? Many more than would for a boreal discovery centre or for painted wolves. In the end, with the right thinking and some creativity we can get a lot more than what this group is proposing for far less.