Community discussions to frame future of arts centre

It’s a community endeavour expected to change how the financially-strapped Elora Centre for the Arts operates.

And after individual interviews and town hall meetings, options being debated will be narrowed down before going to the board for a final choice in July.

About 80 people attended the two town hall meetings last week.

The work of gathering information is being conducted by Dr. Rebecca Sutherns of Sage Solutions, who said some 85 people were interviewed for their thoughts on the centre and its work and for suggestions for the future.

Centre board chair Joanne Grodzinski said the board hopes the community input will assist in developing a future plan for the arts in Centre Wellington.

“We’re looking to change the very way we do business,” Grodzinski said at the afternoon town hall meeting in Aboyne on June 4.

“What we have is not sustainable. In the end we don’t seem to get ahead.”

Among the options being explored is for the board to sell its historic Elora building to a landlord who would lease it back. Other options include a mix of art school and campus, hybrid options.

The centre currently hosts a variety of arts, drama and music programs and exhibits, most notably its March Break and summer children’s programs.

The board operates with a current budget of $250,000 with about 80 per cent used annually for upkeep and maintenance of the building.

“We’re looking at some kind of arts organization the community wants,” Grodzinski said.

The current facility is operating on a “shoestring” with “hours and hours of volunteers,” she added.

The board has also found provincial and federal government funding for the arts is on the decline. The centre, according to Grodzinski, receives about $16,000 annually from the Ontario Arts Council, $5,000 from Centre Wellington and $2,000 from Wellington County. Taxes on the property are about $10,000.

Grodzinski does not favour selling the building.

“I’m quite hopeful they (the board) won’t put a ‘for sale’ sign on it,” she said of the building and property which is an asset held by the centre board.

“Our assets are greater than our liabilities,” she said of the $250,000 mortgage on the property.

Elora resident and part-time centre volunteer Randi Vann said she was happy the public was being involved in the plan that comes from the discussions at Wednesday’s town hall meeting.

“It’s brilliant, somebody didn’t come down and say this is going to happen,” she said of the open process. “This is the arts, this is passion.”

Sara lin Barron, administrative director at the centre, said she hopes the talks will lead to a proposal that will secure the future of the arts.

“I want the organization to succeed,” she said.

Sutherns said the board’s strategic advisory committee will explore the options coming out of the community discussions which included case studies, focus groups and the town hall meetings.

“The next step will happen in mid-June, with the [centre’s] Strategic Advisory Committee making some decisions regarding the desired ‘destination’ – then we can start mapping a critical path forward,” Sutherns said.