Beckmann touting $12 million Centre of Aboriginal Art project for Thompson

Volker Beckmann, project co-ordinator of Spirit Way Inc., re-introduced the idea of a Centre of Aboriginal Art in Thompson that will cost anywhere from $10 million to $12 million - and the benefits it would have to the business community - at the Thompson Chamber of Commerce's luncheon meeting at the Burntwood Hotel on March 17.

As of last month, about $98,500 had been spent for consultants, architects, legal personnel, a quantitative surveyor and more to share input on the project. Funders have been Spirit Way, Thompson Unlimited, the Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, the Thompson Urban Aboriginal Strategy, Neighbourhoods Alive!, the City of Thompson, MKO and KTC.

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Spirit Way has been working on developing an entrepreneurial art facility that will offer young artists training in visual arts, mentorship options and skills in marketing, exporting and entrepreneurship to secure careers in the aboriginal art market for them.

In 2004, Spirit Way had identified that an aboriginal art centre would be a major point of interest in Thompson. The next November the group created the first proposal and presented it to the Urban Aboriginal Strategy in Winnipeg. A few years later, in November 2007, an ad hoc committee was established, and in January 2008 funding was secured and art consultants were hired to prepare a feasibility study on an art centre. Then in May 2008 the study was completed and presented o Spirit Way's partners.

Spirit Way, along with funders for the project interviewed over 300 people concerning the project and also visited the Poeh Centre in New Mexico to study best model and practices.

Beckmann says that he's seem very talented aboriginal artists in Thompson and throughout the North that have wonderful products but don't know how to market them, and so end up getting paid $20, for example, for a painting or carving that could have been sold - with the right exposure and marketing - for $1,000.

Spirit Way has come up with a flexible curriculum that would be offered at the art centre. They considered having the University College of the North (UCN) run the program, but decided the idea of college or university might intimidate some students. Instead, UCN will be facilitating accreditation of students and looking after the administration aspect of the centre. Beckmann says there is also an opportunity for high school students in the North and students at R. D. Parker Collegiate to work with the new art centre.

The site for the centre has been identified as being near the Riverside neighbourhood and close to the shores of the Burntwood River. Spirit Way has built a three dimensional concept model of the proposed building and has presented it to the City of Thompson, who the group is still waiting to hear back from about the use of the land. Spirit Way has incorporated a 60 per cent aboriginal board of directors for the project and has also established the centre's visioning and values.

Beckmann says although it will take $10 million to $12 million to complete the project, he believes the money will be well worth it, considering it will be the only dedicated art facility in Canada and one of the only two (the Poeh Centre being the other) in North America. He says students at the school will be able to take over community initiatives like the Spirit Way rock face carving and also has the possibility of becoming a Manitoba Star Attraction.

According to Beckmann and the board of directors, the next step is to create the final curriculum, launch a capital fundraising campaign, create a communication plan and protocol, launch a branding campaign, architecturally plan for the facility and create governance and partnerships and a business plan.

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