Abbotsford Arts Council bows out of Jubilee Arts Centre: Proposed cultural hub to open without long-planned gallery component

Community, Features, Off The Vine

On the heels of this year’s Jam in Jubilee concert series, the community can expect another flurry of activity to soon take over Jubilee Park.

The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) will be moving their offices into the upstairs floor of the MSA Centennial Library building early this fall, but they will do so without a long-time stakeholder in the building’s re-imagining: the Abbotsford Arts Council (AAC).

The Arts Council had been attached to the Jubilee Arts Centre project from its early stages in 2012 until at least four months ago, when they launched a campaign called Art Matters Here to raise funds for upgrades required to open the centre. The plan was to move the Arts Council’s offices and gallery into the space and introduce new boutique and workshop space. But only $470 was generated from the Indiegogo campaign, well short of its $10,000 goal. Since a final promotional post on the society’s Facebook page on May 30, the AAC has remained publicly silent about the status of the Jubilee Arts Centre.

When reached for comment, AAC President Chris Friesen was similarly tight-lipped about the organization’s exit from the project.

“At the end of the day, it was financially unfeasible,” he said.

ADBA President Tina Stewart is disappointed that the project will go ahead without a gallery space and blames the omission on lacklustre support for the Arts Council, an organization that she calls a “great gift to the city.”

“If we [as a community] better supported our Arts Council, they would be sub-leasing the building from [the ADBA]. It would be lovely to have a gallery in our building, but at this point, it’s probably not going to happen.”

According to presentation documents obtained from an August 13, 2012 City Council meeting, the proposed Arts Centre would have provided the Arts Council with approximately 3,500 square feet of gallery space, a four-fold increase from its current location at the Kariton Art Gallery on Ware St. It is now unclear what will occupy the area originally set aside for the Arts Council.
Re-juvenating Jubilee Park

After more than four years of fundraising, planning, and renovations, the lights are finally coming back on in the historic building. The modernist structure, built in 1967, has remained vacant since the Fraser Valley Regional Library moved its branch to Abbotsford Senior Secondary in 2012.

Architect Ryan Huston has produced new plans for the MSA Centennial Library building that include performance and meeting spaces that community members can book with the potential for other community partners to sub-lease space from the ADBA in the future.

These facilities help realize what Stewart says is her organization’s vision for the building: to “give the community a community space.”

While the operation of the building is strictly not-for-profit, Stewart says she hopes that any revenue generated from events and other projects in the building can be re-invested in community arts and culture. She suggested that one possible project could be the construction of an amphitheatre in Jubilee Park to be used for Jam in Jubilee and other performances.

Stewart praised the Jam in Jubilee organizers’ dedication to providing a well-attended, high quality event every year on a shoestring budget and was eager to find ways to help cut some of their perennial costs.

“They fight every year for every penny they can get to put on a free event,” she said

From library to arts centre

When it was announced that the City would be moving the library to its present location in 2011, a group called Friends of the MSA Centennial Library led by Ken Wuschke petitioned to save the building and transform it into “the hub of Abbotsford’s arts community” according to a post on the group’s Facebook page dated July 7, 2014.

In June of that year, two years into the process of negotiations between the City and other stakeholders, the ADBA signed a lease for the building, assuming responsibility for all operating and maintenance costs. Under this arrangement, all other parties would sub-lease their space from the ADBA.

Then Abbotsford mayor Bruce Banman praised the cost savings that would be passed onto the City budget. In a release issued by the ADBA, Banman states, “[t]he stewardship of the Centennial Library building by the ADBA will not only relieve the City of ongoing maintenance and costs associated with improving the building,but it will also serve to revitalize a historic building and restore Jubilee Park to the jewel it once was.”

He continues to state, “much needed additional space will be made available to community groups at no cost to the City and at low costs to user groups.”

In the two years since the signing of this agreement, the project has earned several government grants totalling $75,000 plus a $100,000 commitment from the ADBA to go towards approximately $350,000 in necessary renovations, according to the Art Matters Here Indiegogo page. These renovations have been quietly taking place behind the scenes and include accessibility upgrades — including an elevator — building maintenance, new tiling, extensive re-organizing and a new window looking out over Jubilee Park.

Now on the verge of opening to the public, the Jubilee Arts Centre is the latest in a tradition of community spaces that have occupied a corner of Jubilee Park for decades, dating back to the Jubilee Memorial Hall, constructed in 1927. Stewart said the ADBA hopes the new centre will “help bring some vitality” to Jubilee Park and Downtown Abbotsford.

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Image by CHO Architects