Though the St. John’s arts community may get much of the province’s attention, Newfoundland’s west coast has plenty to offer in the way of dance, theatre, music and other artistic pursuits. With the opening of the Rotary Arts Centre in Corner Brook, that artistic community has a new profile and level of support that wouldn’t be possible without the help of the private sector.
The Rotary Arts Centre project began about seven years ago, says RAC board chair David Smallwood, because of recognized needs in the Corner Brook community – namely a public art gallery, a small theatre, and a space for working artists. Securing attractive business support for the arts can be difficult on the west coast, Smallwood says, because the region doesn’t have as many corporate head offices as in the St. John’s area. But while the work of its large arts community may not be as well known in business circles, that doesn’t mean it’s not healthy or forward-looking.
“Yes, there is vibrant life outside of the St. John’s metro region,” Smallwood says. He believes that RAC’s membership in Business and Arts NL will help them gain higher visibility with businesses across the province, and even the country – a great benefit, considering the cost barriers west coast artists can face in getting to St. John’s and off the island.
Community involvement is a guiding philosophy of RAC, Smallwood says. “We work closely with community arts organizations, established theatre, music and dance groups, and encourage the use of our facilities for new and experimental ideas in theatre, music, cinema and art.” RAC’s board of directors is volunteer, and each individual member brings his or her own expertise in artistic endeavours or business skills.
“We work with businesses in several important ways,” Smallwood explains. Their patronage provides RAC with operating funds, and they in turn get promotional opportunities. “For example,” Smallwood says, “we recently concluded a five-year naming opportunity for our theatre, which is now known as the Anthony Insurance Theatre.” On a smaller scale, they encourage supporting businesses to buy seats for their employees as perks, and seats within the theatre are also sponsored.
The result is a facility that supports the arts at several levels in Corner Brook. “We offer facilities to the various communities and provide them with first-class facilities and professional technical assistance, all at a competitive price,” Smallwood says.
While the various levels of government support are important, assistance from the private sector is a key part of the equation. “Without business involvement, we would be fighting an uphill battle for operating funds, as there is little available from government, and local sources of personal donations are generally inadequate to meet all of our goals,” Smallwood says.
“Last January we opened a 93-seat theatre, a beautiful art gallery, and six artists’ studios along with facilities for art education and conferences. The place has been buzzing ever since,” he adds. “It was built by funds from three levels of government, our own fundraising, and sweat equity by volunteers.” The artist-run gallery features exhibits from established local artists, up-and-coming talent, and travelling exhibitions.
Smallwood says the Business and Arts NL public piano project is another opportunity to promote the arts in the province and on the west coast in particular. “We look forward to getting the west coast instrument painted and playing at the Deer Lake airport.”
As difficult as the process of finding arts funding can sometimes be, Smallwood plans to stay the course. “We will continue to seek active partners who see the value of the arts to the culture and general well-being of our citizens,” he says, “and who see how much they themselves benefit from support of the arts through increased patronage, business success and overall business value.”