Bold, ambitious plans continue to move forward to house an arts centre in Old Town’s historic Hudson’s Bay Warehouse.
A group called the Yellowknife Artists Cooperative has been working on a plan to create a space for artists, musicians, filmmakers – anyone who has an interest in the arts and needs a space to develop.
One of those behind the project is Old Town businessman and entrepreneur Matthew Grogono – owner of Old Town Glassworks and Old Town Bikeworks.
He helped create the Yellowknife Artists Cooperative earlier this year.
Grogono said he believes there is a need to develop a centre for the arts where people from all arts sectors can come together under one roof to exchange ideas and create a synergy. He added the centre could become a tourist destination as well.
He noted the building, which was built in 1945, will need to be renovated. But Grogono added the co-op has worked with the building’s owner – city developer Les Rocher – to purchase it.
“We have an agreement with Les for first option to purchase the property,” he said. “He is willing to negotiate with us with the intention of selling it to the Yellowknife Artists Cooperative.”
Grogono said there is a price on the table, the co-operative is working to decide whether the price is reasonable, and how to raise money. As part of this planning work, the cooperative is also in the midst of a feasibility study that will examine the scope of such a project and the economic impact on the community.
“The next step would be to do a thorough business plan,” said Grogono. “It’s taken 25 years to get to this point. There is a strong argument for it and our job now is to articulate that argument and debate it and find the merits and the weaknesses to move ahead.”
Grogono said co-op members envision a stage inside the old building, complete with lights and sound, room for up to 100 audience members, a rehearsal space, classroom, gallery and a studio space. He also wanted to make it clear he is speaking for the co-operative for the purpose of this story, but he is otherwise just a cog in a hard-working group of people who want to see this happen.
It’s not a new idea. As far back as 2003, the Aurora Arts Society commissioned a report which called for the creation of an arts centre in the city – giving a single voice for the arts. A 2004 report entitled, Feasibility for an Artist Run Centre in Yellowknife, recommended the focus for such a facility should be on public education, professional development, production and presentation.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly he thinks it is a strong vision and he likes what he sees so far from the artist co-op.
“I’ve had a tour of the building,” he said. “I think it’s an interesting idea and hats off to these folks for bringing it forward and doing some work. It would be a great way to do a couple of things – help reinvigorate our arts community here in Yellowknife and also liven up Old Town.”
O’Reilly said renovation work would need to be done, but “certainly anybody whose been inside has seen the marvelous wooden flooring and large spaces that could be used for a variety of things.”
The warehouse was designated a heritage site in 1993.