“Any significant development project or making positive change happen takes time, especially when you are doing it for the first time. However, by working together as a community towards a common vision we can accelerate the progress and achieve greater success.”
— Braden Pilling, Downtown Development Specialist for Renaissance Brandon in a press release issued yesterday
The Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society’s Strand Theatre project was given another lifeline yesterday — for another few weeks at least.
On Thursday, Renaissance Brandon announced a new funding agreement with the BFMAS that gives the organization until Jan. 31, 2013 to formally submit a revised proposal for the proposed performance arts centre to the federal government.
In its morning press release, Ren Brandon gave notice that its continued support of the Strand project was a “clear message to potential funders and Brandon residents” that it was committed to developing an arts and entertainment district in the city’s downtown.
Among the many conditions under this extension, the remaining $374,000 is to be paid over two years, pending successful funding applications to the federal and provincial governments. As well, BFMAS must provide written progress updates to Ren Brandon by the 15th of each month.
As we have reported previously, BFMAS had applied for $1.8 million from the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, only to have the federal government turn down their application last March. The group was invited to resubmit their application with a revised business plan.
Following the partial collapse of the Brown Block, Renaissance Brandon had stepped in to help stabilize the theatre — which was connected to the block — by handing over $100,000 up front from its previously announced $474,000 funding pledge. Under that agreement, BFMAS had until today to have its funding for the project secured or Ren Brandon would have to re-evaluate its stance.
As the BFMAS reapplication has yet to be submitted more than eight months later, Ren Brandon’s announcement yesterday was a rather surprising show of support for the folk group, especially considering the large amount of criticism the organization has taken over the past several months and the fact that our local federal representative no longer backs the project.
In withdrawing his support last October, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed said the organization had “not been able to muster up a package that’s appealing to the federal government.” But Tweed’s support for the project —or lack thereof — is secondary to the growing possibility that federal funding for arts projects and programming like the Strand may be drying up.
Earlier this week, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Winnipeg’s Thunderbird House was having difficulties keeping its doors open, citing a $230,000 funding shortfall after the federal government withdrew its grant.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been told that cultural programming does not fit the current government priority of economic development,” said Kevin Hart, Circle of Life Thunderbird House board co-chairman.
Certainly Thunderbird House is far removed from The Strand and BFMAS funding issues. But it does provide a strong indication on federal government priorities. Arts and culture are clearly not on that list.
And while we can appreciate the fact that Ren Brandon continues to support the creation of a mid-sized downtown performance theatre — we do too — the continuing and beleaguering saga over the question of federal funding for The Strand has grown tiresome.
Yes, projects like this take time, as Pilling says above. But it shouldn’t take eight months to resubmit an application. Somebody in the BFMAS needs to step up, take charge of this project and meet some deadlines before it’s too late.
If it’s not already.