The Civic Theatre Society has come a long way in eight years, Brian May writes, but plans to achieve even more. Photo: Kevin Underwood

COLUMN: What the heck is a Cultural Media Art Centre, anyway?

From the Civic Theatre’s Brian May

By Brian May

A few years ago — quite a few actually if you care to be chronological — the Star described The Civic’s grand plan as a “cultural media centre.” Since then we’ve woven variations on the phrase into press, speeches, and applications. Then, based on an application earlier this year, one of our potential partners asked: “What exactly is a Cultural Media Art Centre?” A good question. Crucial in fact.

Basically, the idea has been with us from Day One. In 2012 the Nelson Civic Theatre Society realized three things — the single theatre business model was obsolete, the Civic required technical upgrades to become viable, and the community wanted more from their theatre. Those realizations set the agenda.

The 2013 strategic plan stated that a “primary objective was to be financially self-sustaining — and secondly to be a ‘social enterprise’ — generating income while achieving social and cultural goals.” By May 2014 that translated into architectural concepts that the Star described as “three contemporary, acoustically isolated spaces for film, performance, and other community use — positioning this much-loved civic asset as Nelson’s cultural media centre, a dynamic cultural hub and a key component of Nelson’s vibrant downtown.”

Getting back to that question though – why “Cultural Media Arts Centre?” Isn’t that just a catchy phrase? No, it’s not. Can we still just say “I’ll see you at the Civic?” Of course you can. These are some of the thoughts we shared with a funding partner.

Over the years, numerous artistic disciplines have fallen under the umbrella of “media arts,” including: computer art, digital art, electronic art, interactive art, kinetic art, multimedia art, network art, sound art, space art, and video art. “Cultural” use simply adds more options and is true to the original purpose for the whole Civic Centre. These definitions suggest ideas. A Cultural Media Art Centre provides the venue to explore them.

Canada-wide these centres have common elements but varied goals. Some show film as part of their education or outreach goals, while others show film as a necessary part of their funding stream. Concentrations range from film development to community building, or to larger visual arts programming. Each is unique.

In smaller urban areas a Cultural Media Arts Centre should serve multiple purposes – provide entertainment that fits a community’s unique character, develop economic opportunities, support creativity, and help build community through dialogue, seminars, and partnerships. That will become the definition for The Civic Media Arts Centre. It allows us to show more cinema, engage more sectors of the community, and take advantage of more opportunities.

Just this year the Vancouver Foundation authorized a $288,600 grant for The Civic Theatre and Ymir’s Tiny Lights Festival to develop a rural arts inclusion lab. The foundation chose the Civic because it “is a large and established charitable arts organization with professional space and broad reach, able to host gatherings and amplify the stories and experiments that develop.” We were honoured by their selection and trust.

The goal of the lab is to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in rural arts opportunities and then create possible solutions. The issue touches on funding models, poverty, social justice, and racism — problems that are amplified in rural settings. The results will be shared to help the foundation and many other organizations in their programs and decision process.

As executive director Eleanor Stacey said, “Inclusion means ensuring equitable space for everyone. In our community, voices are marginalized for many reasons, from gender to income to age to ethnicity. Finding avenues to ensure accessibility is key.”

That’s just one example of what a media arts society can explore. The future will suggest more. The present suggests we’re ready to move forward. Seven years after setting our agenda, Nelson has a theatre screening film 360 days a year, maintaining a venue without subsidies, building a business without debt, developing a film industry group, investing over $700,000 in technical upgrades, and learning from collaborations with independent theatres and media arts centres across North America. We now have the people, the connections, and the capacity and these efforts opened many doors.

The Civic is here for good and we’re ready to open more doors.

See you at the Civic.

Brian May is assistant gardener, baking tester, and board member of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society.

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